For the first time since its Southeastern Conference opener Jan. 4, the Missouri men’s basketball team is back on the road.
The Tigers look to continue their winning ways after a reinvigorating 91-75 home victory over Florida with a matchup at Mississippi State on Tuesday night.
Missouri is 9-6 overall and 1-2 in the SEC, while the Bulldogs are also 9-6 overall but 0-3 in conference play, most recently losing on a buzzer-beater against LSU.
This is the first of two league road contests for MU this week, with a challenge against Alabama looming Saturday.
Tip-off against Mississippi State is set for 8 p.m. on SEC Network. The game will be radio broadcast on KTGR (105.1 FM).
Here’s a closer look at the Tigers vs. Bulldogs matchup. Below are projected lineups, players to watch, keys to the game and a score prediction.
Projected Missouri starters: Dru Smith, Mark Smith, Mitchell Smith, Kobe Brown, Reed Nikko
Projected Mississippi State starters: Abdul Ado, Reggie Perry, Nick Weatherspoon, Robert Woodard II, Tyson Carter
Missouri player to watch
Only two Missouri players have posted 22 points, six assists and five steals in the same game since 1980: Anthony Peeler and current starting point guard Dru Smith, who did so Saturday against Florida.
The Evansville transfer had to sit out last season because of NCAA transfer regulations. He soaked up information like a sponge, compelling Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin and his staff to rave about his potential.
The Tigers keep seeing the dividends of Smith’s hard work. After a game in which he fouled out with more than five minutes left against Tennessee last Tuesday, he followed with arguably his best performance of the season against the Gators.
Smith leads the SEC in steals per game (2.3) and is an early contender for the league's defensive player of the year.
Mississippi State player to watch
The focal point of the Bulldogs’ offense is Reggie Perry. He’s started all 15 games this season and leads the team in scoring with 15.5 points per game.
Perry played 34 minutes against LSU, recording 13 points and 15 rebounds. He’s a double-double threat every time he steps on the court.
Knowing Martin’s defensive philosophies and his roster, Mitchell Smith should draw the primary assignment against Perry.
Perry has accumulated eight double-doubles this season while scoring less than 13 points in a game only twice.
Missouri’s key to the game
Rinse and repeat.
That should be the focus for the Tigers after their best offensive performance of the season. While Missouri can’t expect to shoot better than 61% from the field every game, it must continue to implement the methods it took to gain that percentage in the first place.
Limiting fouls only becomes more important for MU as it deals with limited roster depth due to Jeremiah Tilmon’s injury and Mario McKinney’s suspension. The Tigers were called for 26 fouls Saturday, putting the Gators in the bonus for the final 13 minutes, but ultimately dodged trouble.
Mississippi State’s key to the game
The Bulldogs’ nonconference strength of schedule is coming back to bite them a little bit in SEC play. Through three game days, Mississippi State is the only conference team to have three losses, putting it at the bottom of the standings.
Limiting mistakes is a huge key for Mississippi State, especially after 18 turnovers marred its last time out.
The Bulldogs have a taller and heavier starting lineup than Missouri, so gaining early control of the glass would skyrocket their chances of winning.
Final score prediction
Missouri 74, Mississippi State 67.