What to know as No. 20 Mizzou looks to end three-game slide at South Carolina
Missouri men's basketball is in the midst of its worst funk of the season.
Three straight defeats have doubled the Tigers' overall and Southeastern Conference loss totals, and now they seek a win to regain their mojo and stop their plummet.
Missouri looks for its first win in two weeks when it plays at South Carolina on Saturday.
The Gamecocks have fared worse than the Tigers overall and recently. South Carolina is 5-10 overall and 3-8 in the SEC, while Missouri is 13-6 overall and 6-6 in the conference. The Tigers' losing streak, however, has dropped them from sole possession of second place in the SEC to seventh.
Missouri center Jeremiah Tilmon is back with the team after a leave of absence and is expected to play against South Carolina, coach Cuonzo Martin said Friday.
The Gamecocks were without Jermaine Couisnard and Justin Minaya — who have combined for nearly 18 points per game this season — in Wednesday's loss to Tennessee. Couisnard isn't expected to play Saturday, South Carolina coach Frank Martin said Thursday, and Minaya's status is questionable.
Saturday's Tigers at Gamecocks tipoff is slated for 1 p.m. on ESPN2 and will be radio broadcast on KTGR (105.1 FM).
Here’s a closer look at the Missouri at South Carolina 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, Kobe Brown, Mark Smith, Jeremiah Tilmon
Who are the projected South Carolina starters?
Wildens Leveque, Keshawn Bryant, Seventh Woods, AJ Lawson, Nathan Nelson
Missouri player to watch
While Tilmon is Missouri's centerpiece player and his insertion into the starting lineup will boost the Tigers, teammate Kobe Brown fared admirably in his absence.
Brown scored only six points against Arkansas but finished with nine rebounds. Both of those totals would've gotten much higher without Brown sitting out the last 15 minutes of the game due to an injury precaution.
The sophomore from Huntsville, Alabama, was at full strength Tuesday against Georgia and finished with a career-high 21 points.
Even in his relative youth, Brown has shown he can handle significant responsibilities for Missouri. If he continues to be productive in the low post, that provides even more freedom to Tilmon and the rest of the Tigers' offense.
South Carolina player to watch
As the third-highest scorer in the SEC this season, Gamecocks guard AJ Lawson will lead the charge against the Tigers. Lawson averages 18 points per game, behind only LSU's Cameron Thomas (22.6) and Vanderbilt's Scotty Pippen Jr. (20.3).
In the teams' previous meeting Jan. 19, an 81-70 Missouri victory, Lawson was held in check with only five points thanks to solid defense from Dru Smith.
Those defensive efforts will be tough to duplicate.
Lawson is an experienced guard and one of only four Gamecocks to appear in each of their previous 15 games this season. Should South Carolina hand the Tigers their fourth straight loss, Lawson likely will be a key contributor.
Missouri’s key to the game
These are the games Missouri must win to pad — rather than torpedo — its NCAA Tournament resume.
This represents Missouri's final road game of February, and building some momentum before getting back to Mizzou Arena would be important, especially ahead of Tuesday's home game against Mississippi, which beat the Tigers by 21 on Feb. 10.
Missouri has proven to be a team that's hard to stop when it's at full strength, and that was the storyline of the Tigers' last meeting against South Carolina. The Gamecocks didn't play horribly in that game; the Tigers were just on another level.
Missouri needs to recapture that consistent, 40-minute form witnessed several times earlier in the season — the form typical of teams capable of winning games in March.
South Carolina's key to the game
The Gamecocks have nothing to lose. They're one of the league teams needing an SEC Tournament championship to play in the NCAA Tournament.
Missouri is reeling after three straight losses in winnable games. South Carolina catches the Tigers at the best possible time for a matchup at Colonial Life Arena.
Since Jan. 7, the Gamecocks have won two games. They defeated Georgia on Jan. 27 and took down a ranked Florida team on the road Feb. 3.
South Carolina has shown flashes of a solid team all season, just not consistently enough to compete in the SEC.
If the Gamecocks are to be successful Saturday, putting together runs down the stretch will be key. That's how Georgia beat Missouri.
Final score prediction
No. 20 Missouri 76, South Carolina 68
Contact Eric Blum at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.
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