Preview: Illinois vs. Missouri - Can Rice & Abrams Save Their Tourney Hopes

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

A huge game for Illinois' tourney hopes is on Saturday and they'll be looking for the upset over Missouri.

Illinois (9-2, 0-0) vs. Missouri (10-0, 0-0)
5:30 PM EST
TV: ESPN2
Line: Missouri 1.5
Series Record: Illinois 20-12
Last Meeting
: 2012 (Missouri 82-73)
Blog RepresentationThe Champaign Room

The Illini have had a mixed season so far.  The team is 9-2 and still has much of the season in front of them, but they still lack a signature win on the year and many believe they look more like an NIT team than an NCAA team.  This makes Saturday's matchup with Missouri even more important.  As written about earlier this week, this could be one of the most important games of Illinois' season in hindsight if the Illini cannot secure enough conference wins.

Missouri has had a pretty successful season so far.  Not only do they enter the Illinois game with a 10-0 record on the year, but they also have wins over UCLA, West Virginia, and Northwestern.  Maybe these teams aren't ranked #1, but UCLA is #33 on KenPom, West Virginia is #61, and Northwestern is #115.  Those are three teams from BCS conferences that can at least play.  All of this together has pushed Missouri up to #46 on KenPom and just three wins away from an undefeated non-conference slate.  One interesting thing to note is that this is the first of three challenging games for the Tigers, so Missouri will be looking to begin this stretch with a solid win.

Missouri's leading scorer is Jordan Clarkson who averages 19.4 points, 3.9 assists, and 3.4 rebonds per game.  Clarkson leads Missouri (among players who have played in every game) in win shares per 40 minutes and in total win shares according to Basketball Reference.  Along with Clarkson, Jabari Brown averages 19 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game.  Clarkson has the most minutes on Missouri's team this year and has one of the best offensive ratings on the roster.  Finally, keep an eye on Earnest Ross who averages 14.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.  He also had 12 points and 7 rebounds in Missouri's most recent game.

Missouri can put up a lot of points and it will be crucial for Illinois to stay tight defensively in order to slow down the Tigers, who shoots very efficiently inside.  Abrams and Rice are going to have a huge challenge trying to slow down Brown and Clarkson, but they both have been improving and had good games against Oregon.  These two are again going to have to play well if Illinois is going to be able to hang with Missouri for 40 minutes.

Having said that, there is no reason not to think that Illinois can pull off the upset.  Missouri may look better on paper, but just take a glance at KenPom.  For all the talk Missouri may be getting by some, they are just a mere 5 spots higher than Illinois on KenPom, which is virtually nothing.  So even though some may project this to go one way or another, the game should actually be pretty balanced.  Illinois should probably be a bit of an underdog in this one, but don't be surprised to see this one go down to the final minutes and potentially see Illinois pull off the win.

Prediction: Illinois by 3

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