For many across the Midwest, the week before Christmas is among the most magical of the year. The halls have been decked, the egg nog spiked, and two beloved basketball teams go after it in the city of Saint Louis. The Busch Braggin' Rights (as important as any game whose title involves a dropped "g") has long been tradition-rich and competitive, with blue and orange jello shots at one party and 24oz camouflaged horse-cock cans of Busch heavy at another.
My group of friends holds an actual battle for the rights to drink Busch beer—only fans of the winning team are allowed to drink Busch for the next twelve months. (If you are caught breaking this rule, the fan with Rights is legally allowed to take the Busch from you and slam it down in your face). It's a wonderful time.
But as Illinois and Missouri get set to battle Thursday night at Scottrade Center (8:00 CST, ESPN2), it's important to remember that the annual Braggin' Rights is not just an excuse for Hoosiers in two different states to get black-out on Busch heavies, jager bombs,and jello shots—there is also a basketball game to be played. Many pundits are talking up what a fine match up this should be, as Missouri sits high in the rankings and undefeated while Illinois is ranked with a respectable 11-1 record. The Illini's record masks something important, however: They stink.
Using the resources from the genius that is Ken Pomeroy, we can discover that Illinois is ranked 108th in the nation in Adjusted Offense (which showed in lackluster wins over Cornell, Illinois State, and St. Bonaventure, as well as the loss to UNLV.) While the Illini have played good defense (28th in the nation), they've also benefited from a tremendous amount of luck, as their pythag record sits at 79%.
The Illini's only true advantage over the Tigers is the monster that center Meyers Leonard is becoming. But UNLV provided an excellent game plan on how to neutralize the talented sophomore, as he became flustered and kicked out to the wing too quickly when double teamed by smaller, but faster, opponents. Odds are Frank Haith will look to Ricardo Ratliffe and a rotating cast of guards to double up on Leonard.
Missouri, on the other hand, is dominant. While the Tigers strength of schedule is weaker than the Illini's (though not by much), their differential between Adjusted Offense and Adjusted Defense (+26.5) is substantially greater than the Illini's (+12.6.) Add in the fact that Bruce Weber teams generally freak out as soon as they see guards who are faster than their own and can press, and this has blowout written all over it.
Prediction: Mizzou 82, Fighting Illini 58. Another year of Rights for the Tigers, another record setting night of Busch 2X4's drunk in Missouri.