The senior forward tandem of DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons has Missouri back in the Top 25 for the first time in five years.
Its been nearly twice that long since the Tigers have defeated Illinois.
No. 25 Missouri tries to live up to its ranking on Tuesday night in St. Louis, where it goes for an eighth straight win overall and tries to end an eight-game losing streak against the Illini.
These schools face each other each year in the days leading up to Christmas, in a rivalry dubbed the Braggin’ Rights series. Illinois has dominated the series recently, winning eight consecutive meetings since a 78-72 loss on Dec. 21, 1999. Defense dominated last season’s matchup, a 59-58 Illini victory on Dec. 22, 2007, when the Tigers shot only 34.5 percent (20-for-58) from the floor.
The way Missouri (9-1) is playing right now, this year’s matchup may be different.
With seven straight victories, the Tigers are riding their longest winning streak since opening the 2006-07 season 9-0. They’re winning by an average margin of 21.9 points, and rank in the top five nationally in scoring (86.3 points per game), assists per game (20.4), steals per game (11.3) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.7).
The dominant play has coach Mike Anderson’s team ranked for the first time since the week of Dec. 29, 2003. The Tigers entered the Top 25 after a superb defensive effort Saturday in a 78-44 victory over Stetson. Missouri limited the Hatters to 27.1 percent (16-for-59) shooting - including 1-for-17 from 3-point range, and only one assist with 15 turnovers.
“I thought our defense was the constant for us tonight,” senior guard Matt Lawrence told the Tigers’ official Web site. “If we can put forth that effort night-in and night-out, the offense will eventually come, because we’ll be able to get some transition buckets.”
The offense is led by Carroll (17.6 points per game) and Lyons (16.2), who also combine to average 14.5 rebounds. Carroll, who had a game highs of 14 points and seven boards against Stetson, will try to keep his focus on the court on Tuesday in what could be a raucous neutral site.
“We’re going to go out there in that game and not really worry about the fans,” Carroll said. “We’re going into that game with the same mindset we did against Oral Roberts, Cal … We’re going to do what Coach asks us to do and I hope we pick up a win.”
No slouches themselves, the Illini (10-1) have won four straight - all by double-digit margins. Illinois shot 64.4 percent (29-for-45) from the field overall and 61.1 percent (11-for-18) from 3-point range Saturday en route to an 82-51 home rout of Detroit. Sophomore center Mike Tisdale and senior guard Trent Meacham each scored 15 points, with Meacham making all five of his field-goal attempts and both of his free throws.
Sophomore forward Mike Davis leads the Illini with 13.0 points per game, although he scored only four on Saturday.