This is just a quick thought, but as a Mizzou Tigers fan, I am glad to see the Busch Braggin Rights game has been renewed as a top 25 inter-conference rivalry. The score from last nights game may look like a little lopsided with Mizzou winning by 11, but until the last minute of gameplay, the game was a constant back and forth battle. Mizzou got a call in their favor that gave them the basket, two free throws, and then the ball back. Along with the intentional foul, they call a technical on Illinois. This last minute with the foul and technical was the game deciding moment. It will be argued among fans about the intentional foul was the right call, but the fact to the matter is Mizzou gained the lead when Laurence Bowers made the basket, and most likely would of gotten one free throw as most likely there would of been a free throw given for the push.
Now that the explanation how a 11 point win was actually a good game, lets get back to why this rivalry is back. For the last decade, Illinois dominated this rivalry. Illinois won 9 straight games until last year when Mizzou won 81-68 when Illinois was in a down year. Now in 2007 and 2008 both games were close with Illinois winning by 3 in 06 and by a point in 07, but both teams weren't that good. Mizzou was still in the rebuilding phase during those years, and Illinois fallen off the map from their high point back in the early and mid 2000s.
Until last night, the last time both teams were rank in the top 25 was back in 2003 when #21 Illinois beat #11 Mizzou by a point. That #11 ranking was flawed as the 2003 season for the Tigers ended up being a bust and they ended up losing in the first round of the NIT with the 2003 and 2004 season. To be fair, lets say 2002, #12 Illinois vs #11 Mizzou, was the last time that two actual top 25 caliber teams faced each other. In the early 2000s there were some good top 25 match ups, and in the late 80s was the peak for the rivalry when there were back to back top 10 match ups. Now the Mizzou program is back on track, and Illinois looks like they are coming out of their funk after a couple of disappointing seasons. I know they lost to Illinois-Chicago, but most teams encounter an upset here and there. But overall, it looks like the old school rivarly in which games are back in forth contests with two of the best teams in the nation is back.
This is exiting not just for fans of either school, but basketball in general. There aren’t a lot of long and traditional out of conference rivalries in basketball. Duke vs Michigan State has been exciting in the last couple of years, but that hasn’t been a long and traditional rivalry. The Busch Braggin Rights game has been played on neutral ground for 30 years, and the rivalry dates back to the 40s. That’s impressive, and considering how neither team has never been in the same conference makes it a more impressive feat. People can call me a fan boy for glorifying this rivalry, but no one can deny that last nights game was exciting, and it was a re-visit to the glory days when both teams were good and fought hard to the end.
Overall this rivalry has it's up and downs as both teams aren't the most consistent powerhouses. It isn't a Duke vs UNC game, but to see a good rivalry outside of their conferences is a treat we all should enjoy. Yesterday was a good example of what a rivalry should be: game has been a constant back and forth battle, both sides are into it, one side is covered in yellow (Mizzou), and the other in orange (Illinois). Now that is a rivalry, and probably one of the best rivalries in basketball.