Missouri men’s basketball is on a three-game losing streak and has lost five of six overall to start Southeastern Conference play.
The Tigers now have their final regular-season nonconference game as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge on the road against No. 14 West Virginia.
The Mountaineers are 15-3 overall and 9-0 in Morgantown, having most recently defeated Texas 97-59.
With a loss, Missouri would have a losing record for the first time this season. The Tigers will be without Jeremiah Tilmon for the sixth straight game, as Tigers head coach Cuonzo Martin called him “week-to-week” on Thursday.
Missouri has not participated in the Big 12/SEC Challenge since the 2014-15 season and is 1-1 overall in the event.
In December 2013, Missouri defeated West Virginia at home, then lost the next season to Oklahoma on the road.
Saturday’s tip-off against the Mountaineers is set for 11 a.m. on ESPN and will be radio broadcast on KTGR (105.1 FM).
Here’s a closer look at the Missouri vs. West Virginia matchup. Below are projected lineups, players to watch, keys to the game and a score prediction.
Projected Missouri starters: Dru Smith, Mark Smith, Mitchell Smith, Javon Pickett, Reed Nikko
Projected West Virginia starters: Oscar Tshiebwe, Emmitt Matthews Jr., Derek Culver, Jordan McCabe, Jermaine Haley
Missouri player to watch
After his reinsertion into the starting lineup for the Alabama game, sophomore guard Javon Pickett has a chance to impact this matchup from the start.
Pickett had been one of Missouri’s aces off the bench for most of the season, but now he is playing an expanded role.
Pickett is third on the Tigers in minutes played per game this season (25.8), behind only Dru Smith and Mark Smith. Yet Pickett is fifth on the team in points per game (7.2), behind that same Smith duo, Tilmon and Xavier Pinson.
The Belleville, Illinois, native has scored just five points in 61 combined minutes of court time since being put into the starting lineup.
Pickett finding his stride could be pivotal in the Tigers pulling an upset.
West Virginia player to watch
The Mountaineers are led by Oscar Tshiebwe, who paces West Virginia in both points per game (11.7) and rebounds per game (9.5).
The freshman center sent the internet into a frenzy during the win over Texas because of a play he made while West Virginia was up 41 points.
After an errant Longhorn pass, Tshiebwe ran down the court and caught up to the loose ball in the corner, just as it was about to go out of bounds. Tshiebwe picked up the ball and made a beeline for the rim, where he dunked the ball over a Texas player.
Missouri forward Reed Nikko, thrust into a starting role in league play, will draw the assignment to stop him. Nikko’s challenges will be similar to when he was matched up against Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn, another eye-turning freshman.
Missouri’s key to the game
The conference slate hasn’t gone according to plan for the Tigers, and while the game against the Mountaineers won’t improve that record, West Virginia would be favored against every league team except Kentucky by Vegas odds.
A win for Missouri, combined with the Braggin’ Rights victory over Illinois and road triumph over Temple, forms a solid nonconference resume come March that nearly outweighs the losses to Butler, Oklahoma and Charleston Southern.
The Tigers need something to inspire confidence and get their season back on track.
In an up-and-down campaign, it would weirdly make sense for Missouri, with its back against the wall, to now win a game in which it’s a 15-point underdog on KenPom.
West Virginia’s key to the game
The Mountaineers are checking off boxes for their NCAA Tournament resume at this point, and head coach Bob Huggins has mastered that skill in his long coaching career.
A loss to Missouri would be West Virginia’s second-to-worst loss of the season, only behind St. John’s. The Mountaineers’ other two losses are to Kansas and Kansas State.
Turning the game into a track meet would be ideal for West Virginia, but that typically isn’t its style either, despite recent wins over Texas Tech and Texas.
The Mountaineers have a deep bench, which Missouri doesn’t have at the moment. That led the Tigers to basically use a seven-man rotation against Texas A&M.
West Virginia’s depth could be vital in a close game.
Final score prediction
West Virginia 84, Missouri 73.