It's no secret Illinois has struggled against arch-rival Mizzou in recent years. The Illini have dropped the last three Braggin' Rights matchups to the Tigers. All three have been bad losses for Illini fans to stomach as well.
Last season, Ayo Dosunmu scored 36 points at Mizzou Arena but the Illini still managed to head back to Champaign with a loss. Two years ago, Illinois lost by seven points as favorites at Enterprise Arena in St. Louis. Three years ago, Illinois was blown out in the second half to lose by 16.
Believe it or not, Trent Frazier was the leading scorer in Illinois' last win over Missouri, which came during his freshman season in 2017. Ironically enough, Edwardsville native and eventual transfer portal extraordinaire Mark Smith was on that team.
It's no secret Illinois and Missouri have never liked each other. The bordering state schools battle it out every year in the recruiting game. A few stakes were shoved a little further into the orange and blue faithful's hearts thanks to Smith and former Illini commits Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett.
A few months after the win over Missouri, the Illinois 2017 Mr. Basketball award winner transferred to Missouri after a disappointing freshman season in Champaign. Smith eventually became the only player to play on both ends of the Braggin' Rights game.
“I just don’t fit the system. I wish all the players the best of luck, but I just don’t fit the system. Coach Underwood, he’s going to get people that fit his system."
Underwood recruited Smith. He was the first Mr. Basketball from the state to commit to Illinois since 2010, but he averaged just 5.8 points per game and only shot 33 percent from the field his freshman year. With five-star recruit Dosunmu en route to Champaign the next season, Smith entered the transfer portal. At the time, it was a big blow for a rebuilding program that felt like it took a full decade to ascend to where it's at today.
Tilmon, an East St. Louis native, originally signed a National Letter of Intent to Illinois before John Groce was fired. After Groce's departure, the five-star recruit requested a release of that letter when Underwood took over. Tilmon was the No. 25 recruit in the Class of 2017 according to Rivals.
Pickett, a Belleville native, asked to be released from his National Letter of Intent a week after Tilmon.
Tilmon and Pickett were part of what was a top-15 recruiting class for Illinois. Things drastically changed after Groce was let go.
Joke's On Them
Despite losing Tilmon and Pickett, Underwood still managed to lure Trent Frazier and Da'Monte Williams. Dosunmu went on to become an Illini legend and will have his number hanging in the rafters at the State Farm Center in a matter of days. There's no question Kofi Cockburn has become a much better center than Tilmon. Overall, the program has been more successful with Underwood at the helm than it ever was under Groce.
On the other end, the Tigers don't have much to brag about, except wins over Illinois, unfortunately. Smith transferred for a second time to Kansas State, a team ironically coached by former Illinois bench boss Bruce Weber. Small world.
Mizzou enters this year's contest as 14.5 point underdogs, the largest margin in over 10 years. The Tigers tout a 6-5 record, which includes a home loss to Kansas City and a road loss to Liberty. It's not a good sign for a much improved SEC schedule ahead.
Keys To Victory
Illinois' last game was a 106-48 blowout victory over St. Francis (PA) after a tough home loss to highly ranked Arizona.
Andre Curbelo will likely be out for the seventh straight game.
However, the Illini have received more production from Alfonso Plummer than they likely ever expected. The guard may just be the best three-point shooter in the Big Ten. Five of the Illini's 18 three-point field goals came from him when the team broke a program record against St. Francis on Saturday.
Illinois showed it can play with the top teams in the country when Arizona came to the State Farm Center. They should roll easily against Missouri as the sharps in Las Vegas believe, but all Illini fans are asking is for a win. A victory over Mizzou would add another solid non-conference to the Illini's resume as they try to earn themselves back into the AP Top 25 poll.
The 41st installment of the Braggin' Rights game will tip off at 8 PM CST on Big Ten Network tonight.