Missouri men’s basketball had one of its biggest breakthroughs of the Cuonzo Martin era Saturday.
The Tigers took down then-No. 11 Auburn by a dozen points to win their fourth Southeastern Conference game of the season.
Now 12-13 overall with no ranked teams left on its schedule, Missouri looks to continue a late-season push up the league standings against Mississippi.
Ole Miss, Arkansas and Missouri are in a three-way tie for 10th place in the SEC entering Tuesday night. The Tigers travel to Fayetteville to face the Razorbacks on Saturday.
Missouri currently holds the tiebreaker with a 1-0 record against the tied teams, meaning it’s in position to avoid the first day of the SEC Tournament next month. The second matchup between the Tigers and Rebels is March 4 in Oxford.
Tuesday’s tipoff against Ole Miss is set for 7:30 p.m. on SEC Network and will be radio broadcast on KTGR (105.1 FM).
Here’s a closer look at the Missouri vs. Ole Miss matchup. Below are projected lineups, players to watch, keys to the game and a score prediction.
Projected Missouri starters: Dru Smith, Xavier Pinson, Kobe Brown, Javon Pickett, Reed Nikko
Projected Ole Miss starters: Khadim Sy, KJ Buffen, Breein Tyree, Devontae Shuler, Blake Hinson
Missouri player to watch
After perhaps the best seven-day stretch of his MU career, Xavier Pinson has appeared to etch his name into the starting lineup until further notice.
Pinson thrived at times coming off the bench when the Tigers were at full health. After recent injuries to teammates Mark Smith and Jeremiah Tilmon, Pinson has excelled in an expanded role.
He scored 28 points in the win over Auburn, besting his 24-point performance against Arkansas on Feb. 8.
Pinson’s ability to drive to the rim with the ball proved tough for Auburn to stop. As one of two natural point guards among MU starters along with Dru Smith, his contrast from Smith’s more deliberate style adds a productive layer to the Tigers’ offense.
Ole Miss player to watch
The SEC’s second-leading scorer comes to Columbia as the Rebels’ leader in Breein Tyree.
Tyree averages 19.9 points per game, trailing Arkansas’ Mason Jones by less than a point for tops in the league. He has big-game potential, as in his last four games, Tyree has twice scored at least 38 points.
Although a few of his other averages (3.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game) aren’t stellar, his scoring presence presents a great challenge to Missouri.
Javon Pickett is a likely candidate to guard Tyree after his success in limiting Jones a week and a half ago.
Missouri’s key to the game
The Tigers have experienced a similar corner-turning feeling once already this year, when they scored 91 points against Florida in a win Jan 11.
Missouri followed that up with a 45-point performance 72 hours later in a loss to Mississippi State and didn’t regain that same offensive form again until its win over Arkansas nearly a month later.
Not falling into a similar doldrum after a resume-boosting win would be a welcome sight for the Tigers.
With the Arkansas overtime win and leading for nearly 65 combined minutes last week against LSU and Auburn, the Tigers have found a formula that’s worked.
They must continue to flow through Pinson and Dru Smith, and the continued emergence of forward Kobe Brown should only help the team’s punch in the paint.
Ole Miss’ key to the game
After starting 0-5 in conference play, the Rebels have won four of their past seven. All three losses in that stretch have come against ranked opposition.
That includes Saturday, when Ole Miss took now-No. 10 Kentucky to the limit in Lexington. Prior to their five-point loss to the Wildcats, the Rebels had won three in a row.
Ole Miss and Missouri have been two of the most improved teams in the SEC since the start of February, and this matchup could be a proving ground for an eventual spot in the NIT.
The Rebels seek to keep the momentum they’ve built over the past few weeks and to not let a sharpshooting Missouri team derail them.
Final score prediction
Missouri 77, Ole Miss 71.