The SEC lost its last unbeaten team Saturday night when Missouri fell to Illinois in a Braggin’ Rights thriller. The annual border rivalry game has a history of producing close finishes, and this year’s version was no exception. The Tigers hadn’t been tested away from Mizzou Arena before this game — they played in front of a home crowd against Hawaii in Kansas City, and no crowd at all in Las Vegas against Northwestern and Nevada. Missouri also faced the best defense it has seen thus far against Illinois (44.4 percent opponents’ effective field goal rate, 33rd in the country). Whether it was the environment, the defense, or Tracy Abrams breaking them down, the Tigers performed well but weren’t quite up for the test. Here are some quick thoughts on Missouri’s first loss of the season.
- Jordan Clarkson is awesome. This was his first true showcase game on national TV (the UCLA game was an early morning start), and he must have turned some heads around the country (22 points, eight assists, six rebounds). Put simply, he’s already got NBA-quality moves attacking the rim. Illinois did a nice job controlling him off ball screens in the first half but Clarkson was able to continuously get in the paint in the second. A rash of Illinois fouls (the Illini were called for seven before Missouri got its first) made him especially difficult to guard. While he’s not a true point guard, he showed again that he can handle the position. He’s also a good attention-grabbing decoy. On two late Missouri possessions, Clarkson was able to penetrate, draw in the defense, and kick out for made threes by Earnest Ross and Jabari Brown.
- Stretch 4′s could hurt the Tigers. Jon Ekey hit a gigantic three with under a minute left that Jonathan Williams III was late to close out on. This was a mini-theme throughout the game. Ekey and fellow Illinois big man Nnanna Egwu went a combined 4-of-7 from beyond the arc. Some of this was due to Missouri crashing in on ball screens to prevent Abrams and Rayvonte Rice’s penetration. Sweet shooting big men are also match-up nightmares by nature, but the Missouri forwards need to be aware when their counterparts leak out to the perimeter. Read the rest of this entry »