For Illini and Tigers, ’tis the season to brag

This weekend’s Wisch List newspaper column from The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)

The WISCH LIST

Dec. 22, 2012

This week, a friend out in California wished me a Merry Christmas and said that perhaps I’ll find a new Illinois football coach in my stocking. I told him I’d settle for an Illini victory over Missouri in tonight’s annual Braggin’ Rights game.

For years, a December win in St. Louis has made for a happy holiday as much as anything as anything that Santa has brought me. Conversely, a loss to the Tigers feels like a big lump of coal.

Suffice to say, with Mizzou on a three-game Braggin’ Rights winning streak, I’ve had my fill of coal.

At 5 p.m. this evening, No. 10 Illinois (12-0) and No. 12 Missouri (8-1) will tangle in a game that could be reminiscent of their matchup in 2000 when the Illini won 86-81 in overtime to snap a three-game losing streak in the series.

After that gut-wrencher, Illini Sergio McClain heaved the basketball into the rafters and teammate Marcus Griffin described the victory as, “Like winning an NCAA title game. That’s how I feel right now. You can’t believe the relief we all feel right now.”

Tonight, Illinois seniors Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and St. Louis native Tyler Griffey – who all are 0-3 vs. Mizzou – could experience similar relief. As they prepare for the game, here are some facts to get you prepared for what’s the best nonconference rivalry in college hoops.

We’re going streaking

Played in St. Louis every year since 1980, save 1982, the Braggin’ Rights border war has been a series of streaks. After splitting the first two games in 1980-81, Illinois rattled off eight consecutive wins from 1983-1990. Missouri then went on to dominate the 1990s with a four-game win streak from ’91-’94 and a three-game spurt from ’97-’99.

Illini coaches Bill Self and Bruce Weber then turned the tide in the 2000s as their teams combined to rip off nine straight Illinois victories before Mizou rebounded with its current three-game burst. All-time, Illnois leads the series 20-11.

The biggest wins

In its 20 wins, Illinois’ average margin of victory is 10.8 points per game, with its biggest victory coming in an 82-50 rout in 2005, after which a frustrated Tigers fan threw a tub of popcorn on Missouri coach Quin Snyder’s head as he walked off the court.

Mizzou, meanwhile, has won its games by an average of 8.3 points with a 76-58 blowout in 1994 standing as its biggest victory.

The series has featured four overtime contests, but none since 2000. This year marks the ninth time that both Illinois and Missouri entered the game ranked and the fifth time both teams have been No. 12 or higher.

The best wins

Illinois’ best victory came in 1988 when Lou Henson’s fifth-ranked Flyin’ Illini fell behind Norm Stewart’s 10th-ranked Tigers by 18 points before Kenny Battle erupted for 28 and Lowell Hamilton added 21 to pull off a 87-84 victory.

Missouri’s greatest triumph, meanwhile, came in the series’ most epic game – a white-knuckle 108-107 triple-overtime victory that came 19 years ago today on Dec. 22, 1993.

Trophy lives

Each year, the name of the game’s victor is engraved on a large trophy that, unlike most other college rivalry trophies, does not travel home with the winning team.

Rather, the trophy is displayed inside a glass case in the Scottrade Center lobby, where it occupies either an orange-and-blue or black-and-gold space in the cabinet depending on the most recent winner. On the opposite side of the case, a plastic sign reads: “THE TROPHY BELONGS HERE NEXT YEAR” in the position where the trophy would go.

Here’s to hoping that come tonight, the trophy trades places.