It’s a fun holiday tradition, Missouri and Illinois meeting each December in downtown St. Louis for the Braggin’ Rights game. Half the arena is black and gold, and half is orange and blue. There’s a frenzy and an energy to this game, each half of the arena erupting and cheering when the fortunes swing their way.  

The game is always just before Christmas, a fun kick-off to holiday time with family. This year they face off on Saturday (7 p.m. on Big Ten Network).
I have a lot of fun memories watching the game, both in person and at my grandparents’ or brother’s houses, enjoying the game amidst Christmas decorations while sipping egg nog to ease the tension.

The Tigers and Illini have a fairly friendly rivalry. There isn’t a lot of hate here, but it’s definitely a game both teams want to win and a good annual barometer of where the teams stand. The teams’ proximity does give a sense of familiarity between the programs, especially on the eastern side of the state. It doesn’t have the intensity and animosity of the old Border War games with Kansas, but it’s still a pretty darn cool game.

There have been some good games through the years, including the epic three-overtime 1993 game, won by Missouri, the last Braggin’ Rights game in the historic old St. Louis Arena. Now the series is played in the Enterprise Center, formerly known as the Scottrade Center.

Both teams have gone on winning streaks in the series, but the Illini have genarally, to the chagrin of Tiger fans, had the upper hand. Overall, Illinois leads 32-16, and 25-12 in the “Braggin’ Rights” era, when the game became an annual December neutral-site tradition in St. Louis.

Illinois won nine straight from 2000 to 2008, including a blowout loss in 2005 where a presumably enraged Tiger fan threw a bucket of popcorn down on former Tiger coach Quin Snyder as he left the floor. Missouri won four straight from 2009 to 2012, but now Illinois has reeled off five straight in the series.

It would be a big step for Cuonzo Martin and this Missouri team to break the streak and get a win here. Braggin’ Rights games could at least as double in terms of feeling good and getting fans excited. It feels like you’ve won a big game, because you have.

Missouri (6-3 at the start of the week) has been quietly building a little momentum with a three-game winning streak, although beating Illinois would be clear step forward.

Illinois (4-7) is off to a slow start, but they have faced a tough schedule so it’s hard to fully judge them. They do have back-to-back wins heading into the Braggin’ Rights game.

This is a game Missouri can win, but in keeping with the theme of a 50-50 crowd split at the game, this one is about a coin flip. Too often I’ve seen Illinois play better or, seemingly, play harder in this game. But this is a chance for Missouri to change the recent trend.

By Benjamin Herrold

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