It’s win or go home. That simple and that difficult.


Missouri has a first-round bye in the Southeastern Conference Tournament as the No. 10 seed and faces No. 7 seed Texas A&M on Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.


The Tigers lost both regular-season matchups against the Aggies this year. MU fell 66-64 at home on Jan. 21 and 68-51 in College Station on Feb. 4.


A victory over Texas A&M would mean Missouri's first SEC Tournament quarterfinal appearance since 2014.


The winner of Missouri vs. Texas A&M will advance to face No. 2 seed Auburn on Friday. Missouri has never advanced to the SEC Tournament semifinals.


For the Tigers’ season to continue past this weekend, they likely would need to make the final for NIT contention and win four games in four days to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.


ESPN's Basketball Power Index gives Missouri a 68% chance to defeat Texas A&M.


The Aggies were possibly the biggest surprise in conference play, going 10-8 despite a tough nonconference slate and playing under first-year head coach Buzz Williams.


Thursday’s tip-off against Texas A&M is set for 6 p.m. on SEC Network and will be radio broadcast on KTGR (105.1 FM).


Here’s a closer look at the Tigers vs. Aggies matchup. Below are projected lineups, players to watch, keys to the game and a score prediction.


Tribune Mizzou athletics beat reporter Eric Blum also gives his predictions for the tournament.


Projected Missouri starters: Dru Smith, Xavier Pinson, Kobe Brown, Javon Pickett, Reed Nikko


Projected Texas A&M starters: Quenton Jackson, Josh Nebo, Emanuel Miller, Savion Flagg, Wendell Mitchell


Missouri player to watch


The Tigers are a different team with Jeremiah Tilmon near or at full strength.


Missouri’s 6-foot-10 center wasn’t healthy for either previous matchup between the teams, and MU paid the price on the glass without Tilmon’s influence.


Reed Nikko did an admirable job filling in while Tilmon was hurt, but Nikko, Mitchell Smith and others lost the battle against Josh Nebo and Emanuel Miller in the previous two meetings.


Tilmon gives Missouri its best chance in the low post to succeed in Nashville. The Tigers need to get No. 23 going in their most important games of the season.


Tilmon’s performance against Alabama was as fluid as any he’s had since the Braggin’ Rights win over Illinois.


If he replicates that, Missouri will have a chance.


Texas A&M player to watch


Should the Aggies take down Missouri a third time this year, Savion Flagg will be integral to those efforts.


Flagg leads Texas A&M in minutes per game (32.0), over three minutes more than Nebo, the next-highest teammate. Flagg is second on the Aggies in scoring average (10.5), rebounding average (5.1) and first in assists per game (2.5).


He can help turn the game into a track meet, which would work against the most logical strategy for Missouri.


If the MU bigs take over the game, Flagg represents one of the major ways to combat that.


Missouri’s key to the game


The Tigers are a different team than they were five weeks ago when the teams last faced.


The emergence of Xavier Pinson as a legitimate consistent scoring threat as well as a healthy Mark Smith and Tilmon weren’t traits Missouri had in that two-week span when the teams met in league action.


Finding the greatest hits from a deep roster that turned an earlier loss against Alabama into a dominating win on Saturday would be the blueprint for the Tigers.


Texas A&M’s key to the game


The Aggies’ game revolves around winning wars inside the paint and avoiding foul trouble.


Texas A&M is 67.8% on free throws as a team, around 10% lower than MU, and a 29.8% 3-point shooting team.


Keeping the clock rolling and not letting Missouri set a tempo of start and stops would help the Aggies win.


Final score prediction


Missouri 74, Texas A&M 66.


Eric’s SEC Tournament predictions


Second-round picks


No. 8 Tennessee over No. 9 Alabama, No. 5 Florida over No. 13 Georgia/No. 12 Mississippi, No. 10 Missouri over No. 7 Texas A&M, No. 6 South Carolina over No. 11 Arkansas/No. 14 Vanderbilt


Quarterfinal picks


No. 1 Kentucky over No. 8 Tennessee, No. 4 Mississippi State over No. 5 Florida, No. 2 Auburn over No. 10 Missouri, No. 6 South Carolina over No. 3 LSU


Semifinal picks


No. 4 Mississippi State over No. 1 Kentucky, No. 6 South Carolina over No. 2 Auburn


Championship pick


No. 6 South Carolina over No. 4 Mississippi State


eblum@columbiatribune.com