No. 13 Mizzou stays on the road at Mississippi State
Missouri men's basketball lost to Mississippi State twice in Southeastern Conference play last season.
Much has changed since then. Missouri now has needed depth and a healthy roster. The Bulldogs lost Reggie Perry and Robert Woodard II to the NBA, but the success of their 20-win season a year ago remains top of mind.
Perhaps the Tigers' worst performance last season was at Starkville's Humphrey Coliseum nearly 12 months ago, a 72-45 loss where their offense sputtered and never got going.
Mississippi State, a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament prior to its cancellation due to COVID-19, also defeated the Tigers 67-63 on Feb. 29 at Mizzou Arena.
The Tigers and Bulldogs only have one league matchup this season, set for Tuesday, with Mississippi State most recently losing to Kentucky by five points in double overtime on Saturday.
Missouri's recent stretch saw it split the first two games of conference play. The Tigers now sit at No. 13 in the latest Associated Press Top 25 Poll with a record of 7-1. Mississippi State is 6-4 and also 1-1 in SEC play.
Tuesday’s tipoff against the Bulldogs is slated for 8 p.m. on SEC Network and will be radio broadcast on KTGR (105.1 FM).
Here’s a closer look at the Missouri vs. Mississippi State matchup. The following are projected lineups, players to watch, keys to the game and a score prediction:
Projected Missouri starters
Dru Smith, Mark Smith, Xavier Pinson, Jeremiah Tilmon, Kobe Brown
Projected Mississippi State starters
Tolu Smith, Iverson Molinar, Abdul Ado, Jalen Johnson, D.J. Stewart Jr.
Missouri player to watch
After a career-high 25 points in Saturday's win against previously undefeated Arkansas, Jeremiah Tilmon has shown his game-changing potential that many MU fans clamored for throughout his career.
The 6-foot-10 center is much of the same cloth as Bulldog pros Perry and Woodard: a dominant low-post player who's a nightmare matchup on both ends of the floor.
Offensively, the Tigers have plenty of options, making Tilmon not have to carry a tremendous load at any one time. If Missouri's perimeter shooters consistently make buckets, Tilmon can draw one-on-one defense, where he's most effective.
Defensively, Tilmon has double-double potential every game, usually leading Missouri in rebounds. His wingspan makes him tough to box out.
The East. St. Louis, Illinois, native's biggest stigma coming into the season was his foul trouble. Tilmon has only fouled out of one game this season (Illinois), with the Braggin' Rights game being rife with constant whistles for both squads.
Overall, Tilmon has shown his professional potential in the first six weeks of this season after declaring for the past two NBA Drafts, but returning to Columbia.
Mississippi State player to watch
The Bulldogs have a different player leading them in each of these per-game averages: points, rebounds, steals and blocks.
That might only be because Iverson Molinar missed three of Mississippi State's 10 games this season.
The Bulldogs simply are better with him on the floor. He's Mississippi State's equivalent to Dru Smith — the floor general who is proficient scoring and passing.
Smith likely will draw the defensive assignment on Molinar because of his maturity and ability to stay in front of speedy guards. For example, look at Illinois' Ayo Dosunmu's statistics when Smith was guarding him compared to other MU defenders.
Molinar is averaging 18.4 points per game this season.
Missouri’s key to the game
The Tigers have the deeper and more talented roster. Should Missouri lose this game, it likely would have more to do with its shortcomings than Mississippi State playing at a higher level.
Whatever funk MU was under during the Bradley and Tennessee games, it went away against Arkansas. If it doesn't return, the Bulldogs would need a near-perfect performance to beat the Tigers.
Missouri's strengths come from its experience and ability to play a gritty style on both ends of the floor. That's tiresome to defend and score against.
That tendency to outwork teams such as Oregon and Illinois figures to be tough for Mississippi State to overcome.
Mississippi State's key to the game
The Bulldogs haven't lost in regulation since Nov. 26, an 11-point loss to Liberty, a team Missouri defeated by nine on Dec. 9.
Both of Mississippi State's losses since Thanksgiving week came in double overtime, to Kentucky on Saturday and to Dayton, which has come down several steps from its national championship-style form the Flyers showed a season ago.
The Bulldogs aren't a team to make many mistakes. Ben Howland's squads, dating back to the Russell Westbrook-led UCLA teams, stick to their bread and butter and let opponents try to disrupt that meal — for better or worse.
Some SEC teams don't have the talent to disrupt that, but Missouri is a team with enough firepower to overtake that strategy.
Final score prediction
No. 13 Missouri 77, Mississippi State 68