(9-1) #25 Mizzou will take on it's third real contest against the (10-1) Illinois Fighting Illini in the 28th Braggin' Rights Game in neutral St. Louis. For the first time in a long time, Mizzou is not only favored, they are ranked! It marks the first time that the Tigers have been ranked in exactly 90 weeks (December 3rd, 2003).
The Fighting Illini are not ranked and haven't been since 2005. However, Illinois is starting to get respect from some of the voters with 20 total votes. If the poll was to be extended, that would be good for #32. This would of been the 3rd consecutive year that neither team was ranked but that streak was halted with today's new AP Poll. At least one of the teams - usually both - have been ranked in 22 of the 28 meetings.
There is a ton at stake this year in the annual meeting, especially with MU. They are favored and expected to win. The pressure is on while they look to break the 8 year skid. With both teams teetering with being ranked or not, which ever team comes out ahead will begin to knife through the polls. Which ever team disappoints, will likely plummet. The game has had a history of providing a boost to the winner...
After a wobbly start that included what was then the worst loss in school history, by 52 points at Arkansas, MU's triple-overtime victory in 1993 propelled it to a national ranking within two weeks. The Tigers then went 14-0 in the Big Eight and advanced to the Elite Eight. In 1996, the Illini were coming off an 18-13 season. They beat Mizzou 85-69, jumped into the national rankings and made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Both teams have really out-performed preseason expectations and will get a shot at receiving some well-deserved National attention. The game will be aired tomorrow night on ESPN2 at 6:30 CT.
The once untouchable Fighting Illini (Derron Williams, Dee Brown, and James Augustine) have really declined since the amazing run in 2004. Illinois was turned down by the Selection Committee for the first time in 8 years last year. On the other hand, Mizzou has been on a steady incline in the past several years. The Tigers have not danced in 5 years after making it into the Tournament 5 straight years.
Missouri and their senior leaders, DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons, have led the Tigers to a near perfect start. With the only loss coming against #7 Xavier, they have put together some impressive wins when playing previously ranked #15 USC and a very decent California team.
When looking at the other end of the spectrum, you will see that Illinois is 10-1, sure, but you also need to notice that they have had a pretty easy schedule. They hosted and lost their only game against a ranked team a couple weeks ago with Clemson. Other than that, it has been mediocre D1 teams or lower.
I will put it this way, this game is so big that former MU coach Norm Stewart actually spread palm leaves around the locker room and went as far as sprinkling salt on them for good luck when he was at the helm. You can think he is crazy all you want but he was an awesome coach and this just shows the significance of this game. Many think it is the reason that the Tigers have faded after several hot starts these past few years. Like I said, this game has an interesting way of lifting the one that wins and sinking the team that does not prevail.
Mizzou has lost in the final seconds of the past three Braggin' Rights Games. This year, Carroll (avg; 18 & 7) and Lyons (16 & 7) look to put the Fighting Illini away to build that resume for March.
As a diehard Missouri fan, I am very proud to say that the Mizzou program is looking up and getting better each year. We are now finally ranked. A win tomorrow would be huge, propelling us to God knows what.
Some predict us to do amazing things this year and I cannot wait. Last week, I was watching halftime of some College Hoops game and Dick Vitale himself said, "Mizzou will take the Big 12 and cruise through the NCAA Tournament till at least the Sweet 16... mark it down." I guess that is when it kicked in and I got the feeling that this group was special.
I predict some extreme accolades for the Tigers this year. We will look to go to the Tournament for the first time since 2003 and we aren't just going to go. They have the perfect formula if you ask me and they are good. Tomorrow's game will measure how good.
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