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Gordo ranks area hoops: Idle SLU rises while Illini, Tigers stumble

Gordo ranks area hoops: Idle SLU rises while Illini, Tigers stumble

Morsell scores 19 as Maryland upsets No. 12 Illinois 66-63

Illinois guard Adam Miller (44) battles for a rebound against Maryland in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Holly Hart)

SLU has been sitting around for weeks during its COVID-19 pause. Missouri, SIU Carbondale, SIU Edwardsville and SEMO also quit playing basketball games with the coronavirus raging in this region.

But Illinois has soldiered on in the rugged Big Ten. The Fighting Illini had an opportunity to climb in the national polls and finally reach the top of our regional ranking ... and then they fell at home to conference also-ran Maryland 66-63 Sunday night.

Later this month the Illini must play Michigan State, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan during a brutal five-game stretch. So holding off the Terrapins Sunday would have really helped their cause.

The Billikens have been idle since Dec. 23 due to their COVID-19 outbreak. Their games against Duquesne, UMass, La Salle and Davidson were postponed.

But at least they didn’t lose any games during the past few weeks, so they moved into the Associated Press Top 25 last week and rose to the top of our regional ratings this week while the Illini and Tigers suffered losses.

Here is how the area’s Division I teams stack up:

SLU (7-1): Those earlier SLU victories over LSU and North Carolina State should age well, as will that respectable loss at Minnesota. They are they only Atlantic 10 team sitting at 0-0 in the conference. The loaded Billikens should stack up victories when they finally get into league play and they could become hard to displace from this top spot.

Missouri (7-2): For one half at Mississippi State, the Tigers appeared to be back on track offensively. They moved the ball from side to side. They moved well with and without the basketball. They found center Jeremiah Tilmon at the rim for some power slams. They did some damage in transition and they turned the ball over just once during the 20 minutes. They had to settle for 39-27 halftime lead after squandering some possessions, but overall they appeared to be in great shape. And then suddenly they weren’t. They collapsed in the second half when the suddenly rejuvenated Bulldogs came after them. It would have been interesting to see how the Tigers responded at home against talented LSU Tuesday, but the coronavirus pandemic had other ideas. That game was postponed, as was Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt. Mizzou’s next currently scheduled game is Jan. 16 at Texas A&M. Can the Tigers pull themselves together after their pause?

Illinois (9-4): Remember when Northwestern was the talk of the Big Ten? Yeah, that was cute. Reality struck the Wildcats with losses to Iowa and Michigan before the Illini drubbed them 81-56. Kofi Cockburn led the way with 18 points and 12 rebounds and 10 different Illini scored points in the game. But the Illini saw their conference winning streak snapped at four games with Sunday’s stunning home-court loss to Maryland, which was 1-5 in league play. (Although its only previous victory was at mighty Wisconsin.) Ayo Dosunmu scored 23 points, but the swarming Terrapins him hounded into 14 missed shots from the floor.

Missouri State (8-1): The Bears roll on in the Missouri Valley Conference. They ventured to Indiana over the weekend and banked 81-68 and 78-68 victories at Valparaiso. Talk about consistency: Small forward Isiaih Mosley scored 29 points in both games. The former Columbia Rock Bridge standout has scored 20 or more points in seven consecutive games for the Bears, who are 5-1 in league play. Postman Gaige Prim scored 33 points and grabbed 26 rebounds in those victories over the Crusaders.

SIU Carbondale (7-3): After losing back-to-back games to MVC-leading Drake, the Salukis had to shut down due to a COVID-19 outbreak. (Also shutting down until further notice: the 13-0 Drake Bulldogs. The postponement of their Loyola showdown cost the league another shot at national attention.) SIU Carbondale postponed two games at Indiana State over the weekend, so their scheduled home games this coming weekend against Valparaiso appear imperiled as well.

SEMO (3-7): The Redhawks joined the list of area teams idled by the pandemic. Their shutdown came after they hung tough at Belmont in a 77-66 loss to the Ohio Valley Conference powerhouse. With leading Redhawks scorer Chris Harris sidelined with a thumb injury, Nebraska transfer Nana Akenten stepped up to score 20 points and grab 11 rebounds. Jordan Love came off the bench to add 12 points and dish six assists in that loss.

SIU Edwardsville (3-4): The Cougars have played one game since Dec. 9. After showing early promise this season — they scored 81 points in a loss to LSU and won 73-53 at Northern Illinois — SIU Edwardsville has been mostly idle due to coronavirus issues in its program of with its opponents. The Cougars hope to resume OVC play Tuesday night by hosting Austin Peay.

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Jeff Gordon is an online sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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