ST. LOUIS – During the Illinois men's basketball practice Tuesday, two players stood out.
One looked like a giant amongst giants, standing almost a head taller than the rest of his team. Going for a rebound, his feet barely had to leave the ground to grab it. The other was not quite as tall, but his arms appeared to extend forever, allowing him to steal a pass from Illinois guard Jeffery Jordan that looked almost unreachable.
Missouri (7-3) vs. Illinois (8-3)
WHEN: 8:30 p.m.
WHERE: Scottrade Center, St. Louis
TV: ESPN 2
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM, KBXR/102.3 FM
The two players were juniors Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis. Tisdale (7 feet, 1 inch) and Davis (6-9) are taller than anyone on Missouri’s team and average in double figures scoring. Stopping the two big men during the Braggin’ Rights game Wednesday night represents the ultimate challenge for the mostly unproven Missouri forwards.
“This is a pretty big test for us, and you know it’s a really important game,” Tigers junior forward Justin Safford said. “I think as we step into these roles, we are starting to get into a little more of a groove as the season progresses.”
Since the departure of forwards DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons, the Tigers have struggled in the post both on defense and offense. Throughout the season, Missouri coach Mike Anderson has said the position has been a work in progress to find the right combination, and Wednesday is the midterm test.
“We’re going to see where we are at right now,” Anderson said.
Missouri forwards have been outrebounded in six of 10 games this season. Against Vanderbilt, they allowed 6-10 center A.J. Ogilvy to score 25 points, mostly off rebounds. Anderson said they will need to defend better Wednesday if they are to have a chance.
“One of the things I want to see us do is get better at the rim, protecting the rim and defending the rim,” Anderson said.
Tisdale and Davis are similar to Ogilvy. Both have a midrange jump shot that stretches defenses and both have a distinct size advantage. Though the Illini are known more for their guards than forwards, coach Bruce Weber said he plans to exploit Missouri's lack of height.
“We have to take advantage of trying to get the ball inside, which we haven’t done as much as we need,” Weber said.
Last season, Missouri allowed Tisdale and Davis to combine for 25 points on 12-16 shooting. Tigers sophomore forward Laurence Bowers said he picked up a few things from last year’s experience. This year, he said, they want to attack the Illini off the dribble to get them in foul trouble to force them out of the game and even the odds.
“Their two forwards compared to our committee of forwards, we’re right there with them, if not better,” Bowers said.
However, no matter how much film and practice the Tigers go through to prepare, the amount of intensity and effort they have will determine if they pass or fail Wednesday.
“You really can’t prepare for a guy's height,” Bowers said. “It is all about who wants to mark him down and who wants to play defense on him.”