Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @themulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.
There are too many three and four star games tonight to count, so in the interest of analyzing a few teams we have not touched on before, we picked three neutral court games that should be great. Let’s get to the action.
Missouri vs. Illinois – 9:00PM EST on ESPN2 HD (****)
- There are two reasons Missouri is flat-out destroying opponents this season — they shoot lights out and they protect the ball. The Tigers are first in the country in eFG% at 60% and first in the country in offensive turnover rate at 13.6%. It is very difficult to beat a team that hits a majority of its shots and does not have empty possessions. The Mizzou offense will be matched up against a solid Illinois defense. The Illini gets on the defensive boards and blocks shots. Unfortunately, Bruce Weber’s guys are a little soft on their perimeter defense giving up 35.5% from three. Tiger guard Kim English, who shoots a ridiculous 53.2% (33-62) from beyond the arc, could have a field day tonight if not checked.
- Illinois cannot try to outshoot Missouri tonight. They will get blown off the court if they do. They must focus on defense if they are to have a chance. Keep an eye on 7’1” Illini center Meyers Leonard and what impact he has on the game against a small-ish Tigers team. The tallest Mizzou starter is the 6’8” Ratliffe, who will have to check Meyers. However, there is still a significant size difference. Meyers will need to have a career game to lead Illinois to a victory.
- Missouri’s shooting will dictate who wins this game. If the Tigers shoot their average, they should take the victory. Expect them to shoot a few more threes than normal against a weak Illini perimeter defense. If Illinois is to keep this game close, Meyers will have to find a way to dominate on both ends of the floor. Illinois needs to slow the game down and D.J. Richardson needs to continue to protect the ball against the Tiger press for the guys in orange to have a fighting chance.
Baylor vs. St. Mary’s – 10:30PM EST on ESPN3 (****)
- In Baylor’s last game against a West Coast Conference team, it barely escaped 86-83 at BYU. Despite being outshot by Baylor by a significant margin, the Cougars kept the game close by dominating the offensive boards. St. Mary’s is a better offensive rebounding team than BYU, so keep an eye on how many offensive boards the Gaels grab in this game. With Baylor blocking so many shots and creating steals on 13% of opponents possessions, their long and athletic front line makes scoring on them very difficult. Speaking of front lines, keep an eye on the Bears’ forwards Perry Jones, Quincy Miller, and Quincy Acy on offense as well. St. Mary’s does not have the same level of athletes to match-up with the trio.
- Baylor is by far the toughest test of the season for Randy Bennett’s team. Keep an eye on how the Gaels handle the initial Baylor onslaught. In order for the Gaels to stay in this game, they need to own the boards on both ends. They are currently one of the top defensive rebounding teams in the country and solid on the offensive boards as well. St. Mary’s guard Matthew Dellavedova is going to have to shoulder the offensive load. Keep an eye on how he responds to the pressure.
- St. Mary’s appears to be outmanned in this game, so hustle will be the key for them. The size of the Baylor frontcourt could be too much for the Gaels. Rebounding will be the key factor. Baylor shoots the ball very well, but SMC can keep in close if they hit the boards. Baylor needs to hang on to the ball and take advantage of their athleticism and length to win.