What to know as No. 10 Mizzou basketball looks to rally vs. Arkansas

Eric Blum
Columbia Daily Tribune
Missouri's Dru Smith, left, dribbles past Arkansas' Desi Sills (3) during a game Feb. 8, 2020, at Mizzou Arena. Missouri beat Arkansas 83-79 in overtime.

Missouri men's basketball has yet to lose two games in a row this season and will look to avoid that occurrence Saturday.

The Tigers face a resurgent Arkansas team that has won five straight Southeastern Conference games entering its rematch against Missouri.

Missouri's first conference victory of the season took place the last time the teams met, an 81-68 win for the Tigers on Jan. 2.

More:Five things we learned in No. 10 Mizzou basketball's 80-59 loss at Ole Miss

Now, Missouri is coming off its worst performance of the season, an 80-59 loss at Mississippi on Wednesday night. 

Saturday's game will be the sixth annual Rally For Rhyan game, where MU raises money for pediatric cancer research in honor of 10-year-old survivor Rhyan Loos, who now is in remission. Rhyan is the daughter of former Tigers assistant coach Brad Loos. 

The Tigers enter the game 13-4 overall and 6-4 in the SEC, while the Razorbacks are 15-5 overall and 7-4 in league play. 

Five teams — Missouri and Arkansas included — are separated by a half-game in the conference standings, spanning second to sixth place. 

Saturday's Tigers vs. Razorbacks tipoff is slated for 3 p.m. on ESPN2 and will be radio broadcast on KTGR (105.1 FM).

Here’s a closer look at the Missouri vs. Arkansas matchup. The following are projected lineups, players to watch, keys to the game and a score prediction:

Who are the projected Missouri starters?

Dru Smith, Xavier Pinson, Jeremiah Tilmon, Kobe Brown, Mark Smith

Who are the projected Arkansas starters?

Connor Vanover, Justin Smith, Davonte Davis, Moses Moody, Jalen Tate

Missouri forward Mitchell Smith (5) blocks a shot by Mississippi forward Robert Allen during a game Wednesday night in Oxford, Miss.

Missouri player to watch

The lone remaining holdover from Loos' tenure as an assistant coach likely will play in his final Rally For Rhyan game Saturday: Mitchell Smith.

The redshirt senior has made a name for himself in Columbia without being a standout scorer, averaging only 4.2 points per game this season. 

It's his defense and rebounding skills that earn him the dubbing "The Credit Card" from Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin, who says "you can't leave home without him."

Smith pulled down 20 combined rebounds in Missouri's past two home games and has provided quality minutes off the bench. 

Smith is a Van Buren, Arkansas, native, and Saturday's matchup could be his final showdown against his home-state school.

Arkansas forward Justin Smith (0) shoots during a game against Oklahoma State on Jan. 30 in Stillwater, Okla.

Arkansas player to watch

The biggest problem the Razorbacks experienced in the teams' first meeting was stopping Jeremiah Tilmon, who finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds.

Arkansas was without Justin Smith in that game. But it won't be Saturday. 

Smith, no relation to any of Missouri's trio of Smiths (who all aren't related either), is an experienced 6-foot-7, 230-pound forward.

While Tilmon has the advantage in terms of length and height, Smith's goal will be to slow down Missouri's best low-post scorer. 

Tilmon is tough to stop, but Smith slowing him is critical for Arkansas.

Missouri’s key to the game

Missouri may be more desperate for a win than Arkansas. A loss would send Missouri tumbling in the national rankings, and more importantly, in the SEC standings. 

The Tigers haven't played their best defense as of late. After not allowing an opponent to reach 80 points through the first 12 games of the season, Missouri has let its foes hit or eclipse that total three times in the past five games.

The home stretch against Alabama last Saturday and all of Wednesday's loss to Ole Miss weren't close to Missouri playing its best. 

Something to engage Missouri's focus, beyond defending its home court, could be the boost it needs. The Tigers are 5-0 in Rally for Rhyan games, dating back to the second season of Kim Anderson's tenure, when league wins were few and far between. Over the years, it has not been smart to bet against MU on this day. 

Arkansas' key to the game

The Razorbacks are a better team than Ole Miss, with more consistently capable pieces. And they were just given the blueprint to beat Missouri. 

It will be a challenging endeavor, as Missouri rarely has a huge letdown in the same area multiple games in a row. 

Both defenses should settle into the game better than either did in Fayetteville, making for more of a gritty game the likes of last year's contest at Mizzou Arena. That was an overtime win for Missouri. 

Final score prediction

No. 10 Missouri 71, Arkansas 66

Contact Eric Blum at eblum@columbiatribune.com. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.

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