Braggin' Rights game comes with extra buzz, hype

Braggin' Rights game comes with extra buzz, hype

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) There is a little something extra in this year's Braggin' Rights game between Missouri and Illinois.

For the first time in a decade, both teams are ranked in the top 15 and it's a big early season test for a couple of teams still trying to figure out who they are.

No. 10 Illinois has surprised pretty much everyone under first-year coach John Groce, bringing a 12-0 record into Saturday's game in St. Louis. They certainly surprised a couple of teams in Gonzaga and Butler to help build their resume.

Missouri is playing with a largely rebuilt roster and getting ready for its first run through the SEC. Only two of coach Frank Haith's players have played in a Braggin' Rights game, but the 12th-ranked Tigers (9-1) are off to a strong start.

With Missouri having won three in a row against its rival, Illinois seniors Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Tyler Griffey are getting their last shot at beating the Tigers unless there's a postseason meeting.

Groce has said that virtually since the moment he left Ohio for the Illinois job back in March he's heard about how big a deal the game is - the loud sellout crowd, divided right down the middle between fans in orange and blue and those in gold and black, national TV, the hype and buzz of a game played over the holidays just before the teams head off to their conference schedules.

That's great, he said, and the opening few minutes of the game will be all energy and crowd noise and hustle.

``But after four or five minutes, Frank will coach his team and I'll coach mine and we'll both try to execute,'' said Groce, who is worried about Missouri's size and rebounding.

Missouri is No. 1 in the country in rebounding at 46.1 a game, and averages 13.3 more a game than the teams they've played.

Alex Oriakhi, a 6-foot-9, 255-pound forward, leads the team with 8.6 boards a game. But the Tigers' starting lineup also includes 6-8, 227-pound Laurence Bowers (6.4 rebounds a game) and 6-11, 230-pound Stefan Jankovic (2.1).

Outside of 6-11 center Nnanna Egwu and 6-9 forward Griffey - known more for his shooting than inside play - the Illini don't have players who, on paper, match up. Most of Illinois' 36.6 rebounds a game come from their guards. Paul (5.1 rebounds a game), Richardson (4.6) and point guard Tracy Abrams (3.5) lead the team.

``The biggest thing is the rebounding,'' Groce said, ``and obviously those (Missouri) guys can post the ball. We've got to block out well and we've got to be willing to hit people when the shot goes up, and we've got to snatch our fair share.''

Missouri also is deep.

While Illinois has eight players averaging 10 or more minutes a game, Missouri has nine, and has played almost its entire roster some games. In Monday's 102-51 demolition of South Carolina State, 10 Tigers played at least 14 minutes each and 13 saw some action.

Haith, in his second season at Missouri, said being able to dip that deeply into his bench is a luxury.

``It is a little different for me playing that many guys,'' he said. ``We do have guys that can play and can contribute. It allows us to play fast on offense and do some things defensively when you have that kind of depth. You can wear opponents down, so that is something we have to look at.''

Haith has built this team in part on transfers like Oriakhi (from Connecticut) and guard Keion Bell (Pepperdine).

Bell said he played rivalry games at Pepperdine, ``but it was nothing to this extent. This is a different level of basketball. I've heard the guys from previous years talk about the intensity of the game and how big of a game it is, so I'm just looking forward to playing in it this year.''

He's right, said Paul, preparing to play in his fourth game against Missouri.

``You try to prepare for every game the same, you know,'' Paul said. ``But no matter what anyone says, it's a lot different. It's an incredible atmosphere and it's a blessing to play in this every year.''


Follow David Mercer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidmercerap

Quick Links

Nuggets select Michael Porter Jr. just one pick ahead of Wizards

USA Today Sports

Nuggets select Michael Porter Jr. just one pick ahead of Wizards

So close yet so far.

The Washington Wizards fell just one pick short of selecting once-coveted top prospect Michael Porter Jr., who almost fell outside of the lottery in Thursday night’s NBA Draft.

But the Denver Nuggets selected the forward with the No. 14 pick.

A back injury led to widespread concern throughout NBA front offices and, as a result, Porter Jr. had the draft’s biggest slide.

In his first game for Missouri, Porter Jr. left two minutes in with injury. He underwent back surgery and would return for the last two games of the season: an SEC tournament loss to Georgia and a first-round exit to Florida State in the NCAA Tournament.

During the loss to FSU, Porter Jr. shot 4-of-12 with 16 points and 10 rebounds over 28 minutes. The 6-10 forward added three steals in the 67-54 loss.

Porter Jr. finished his freshman season averaging 10 points and 6.7 rebounds over just 17.7 minutes per game. He shot just 35 percent from the field.

Quick Links

Wizards take Oregon's Troy Brown with No. 15 pick in 2018 NBA Draft

USA Today Sports Images

Wizards take Oregon's Troy Brown with No. 15 pick in 2018 NBA Draft

The Wizards may have filled several needs in one pick by selecting Oregon's Troy Brown 15th overall in the 2018 NBA Draft on Thursday night.

Brown, just 18 years old, plays both shooting guard and small forward. The Wizards need depth at both positions and Brown could give them insurance for Kelly Oubre, Jr., who is set to be a free agent after next season.

He also helps shore up shooting guard behind Bradley Beal. That will be extra important early in the 2018-19 season as Jodie Meeks is due to miss 19 games while serving a suspension.

Here's what you need to know about Brown...

Height: 6-7
Weight: 208
Wingspan: 6-10
Max vertical: 33
2017/18 stats: 11.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.6 spg, 0.2 bpg, 44.4 FG%, 29.1 3PT%, 74.3 FT%

*Brown was a one-and-done player at Oregon who in his one NCAA season showed that he can do a lot of thing on the court. He played some at shooting guard, some at small forward and says he's comfortable at point guard as well, having played there plenty in the past. Brown could be a perfect for positionless basketball.

*He is an excellent rebounder for his position. Brown pulled in 6.2 boards per game and five times had 10 or more. One of those games, on Dec. 13 against Portland State, showed well how many ways Brown can affect a game. He had 10 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists, a block and a steal. Brown is also an adept passer. He prides himself on being able to set others up and has a knack for threading the needle in passing lanes.

*The biggest question for Brown is his shooting. He shot just 29.1 percent from the perimeter and 44.4 percent from the field. After his predraft workout with the Wizards, Brown blamed his percentage on shot selection. He is confident he can be a better shooter as his career goes on.

*Brown had a solid combine, measuring in over 6-foot-7 in shoes and with a 6-foot-10 wingspan. But his 33-inch max vertical leap was not great. Perhaps that will improve with time and through strength training.

*Brown's parents and sister were all college athletes and both of his parents were Nevada state correction officers. That latter fact may be the reason why Brown is mature beyond his years. Though he's 18 years old, he carries himself and handles the media as if he's a longtime NBA veteran.

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!