Well that was a fun one. It looked several times that the Missouri Tigers would pull away and blowout the Illinois Fighting Illini. It was not to be, and the game really came down to the final minute when the Illini forgot to stop Missouri’s Phil Pressey in transition. That’s a big mistake anytime but especially in “crunch time”. Take a deep breath and join me as we breakdown the battle in St. Louis!
“Live by the three and die by the three”…
The Illini took 32(!) three points attempts in a close game, despite the fact they were just hitting at 25 percent clip. The thing is I can’t blame ‘em! The way this team is currently structured, they can’t play a grind it out, physical, inside battle.
Brandon Paul though deserves some serious blame. He showed he could take any Tigers defender off the dribble yet had a major unwillingness to do so. The few times he did, he succeeded. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Give some credit to Tyler Griffey. The much maligned Illinois wing was willing to take the big shot despite the fact a miss might put the game completely out of reach. His ability to “pick and pop” with any of the Illini guards is going to be huge this Big Ten season especially considering the “4 out” style coach John Groce has adapted.
I ripped Nnanna Egwu in my pregame primer, and I meant what I said, however he showed he can be a factor. The majority of the game the Tigers dominated on the glass but during a big stretch midway through the 2nd half he helped to shrink that margin. It allowed the Illini to work through a serious cold stretch of perimeter shooting and keep the game within reach.
Since they weren’t rebounding well anyways I would have liked to have seen the Illini go to a 2-3 zone more. You won’t get crushed on the glass any worse and at least you would be able to somewhat contain Pressey’s dribble penetration. He was able to get into the paint at will and find open shooters. It was frankly a bit lucky that Missouri didn’t shoot better from the outside. The amount of open corner threes was astounding.
This Illini team is really good but I don’t think they’ll go far in March. While it’s early, I heavily doubt that anyone on the roster is going to show enough inside to offset a poor shooting night. They’ll be deadly at home but beating the top teams in the conference on the road will be a real struggle. Eight conference wins sounds about right, if I had to pick right now, and that’ll be enough in the incredibly strong Big Ten. Plus, there are a lot of bad teams across college hoops this year and someone’s got to fill those at-large spots!
Like my article? Hate it? Let me know on Twitter (@tmichaelcronin). I look forward to your thoughts.