SUBSCRIBE NOW
$1 for 3 months
SUBSCRIBE NOW
$1 for 3 months

What you need to know as No. 18 Mizzou basketball looks to keep Kentucky in check

Eric Blum
Columbia Daily Tribune
Missouri forward Jeremiah Tilmon (23) is congratulated by guard Xavier Pinson (1), guard Javon Pickett (4) and forward Kobe Brown (24) after defeating Bradley on Dec. 22 at Mizzou Arena.

Better late than never — especially during a global health pandemic.

After a one-day delay due to COVID-19 protocols involving the opposing team, Missouri men's basketball is slated to host Kentucky on Wednesday night at Mizzou Arena.

Missouri enters the game 11-3 overall and 4-3 in the Southeastern Conference, while the Wildcats are 5-10 overall and 4-4 in league play.

The Tigers' last win over Kentucky was a 69-60 victory on Feb. 3, 2018, in Columbia. That stands as Missouri's only triumph against the Wildcats in program history. 

Missouri's most recent game against Kentucky was last season's conference opener for both squads, a 71-59 Wildcats victory at Rupp Arena.

NCAA Bracketology:Where Mizzou basketball would be seeded today

It's been a trying season for Kentucky with expectations dashed despite a talented roster. The Wildcats won their season opener over Morehead State by 36 points before losing their next six games, going over a month without a victory.

Kentucky started strong in SEC play with wins over Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Florida, but the Wildcats have faltered since, winning one of their past five.

Kentucky appears to need either a regular-season hot streak or to win the SEC Tournament to make the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats haven't missed the postseason due to solely their win-loss record since 1989.

Wednesday's Tigers vs. Wildcats tipoff is slated for 6 p.m. on ESPN2 and will be radio broadcast on KTGR (105.1 FM).

Here’s a closer look at the Missouri vs. Kentucky 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, Javon Pickett 

Who are the projected Kentucky starters?

Keion Brooks, Olivier Sarr, Brandon Boston, Devin Askew, Davion Mintz

Missouri player to watch

Missouri forward Kobe Brown shoots against Auburn during a game Jan. 26 in Auburn, Ala.

Tigers head coach Cuonzo Martin called Kobe Brown the MVP of Saturday's win over TCU. 

Brown's performance was singled out over Xavier Pinson's 36-point outing that included an 8-for-13 mark from 3-point range. 

Brown, a sophomore from Huntsville, Alabama, was also chosen by Martin over Jeremiah Tilmon's 33-point, 11-rebound performance. 

Brown was credited due to his consistent tenacity in the low post, collecting 13 rebounds (five offensive, eight defensive).

A few of Brown's rebounds provided second-chance scoring opportunities for Missouri that proved crucial in its comeback victory.

Brown has been a fixture in Martin's starting lineup since his arrival on campus and can fill plenty of holes while his teammates handle primary scoring responsibilities. 

Should Brown have another quality performance, Missouri will reap the benefits.

Kentucky player to watch

Kentucky forward Olivier Sarr (30) looks to pass against Alabama forward Juwan Gary (4) during a game Jan. 26 in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

If Kentucky wants to pull the upset (and that feels weird to say), stopping Tilmon will be at the top of its checklist. 

The Tigers' senior center has been a double-double machine since the start of SEC play, only missing that mark twice in seven games.

Enter 7-foot Wildcats senior center Olivier Sarr

The Wake Forest transfer has been a calming presence for a Kentucky team laden with young players.

Sarr averages 10.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.

Should Sarr keep Tilmon and other Missouri bigs in check, the Wildcats could jump-start their season with a win over a ranked team, something they've yet to do this campaign. 

Missouri’s key to the game

Missouri needs better defense. What happened against TCU is a recipe for disaster, and the Tigers are fortunate they played well enough offensively for the overtime win. 

Kentucky presents a different challenge offensively than Auburn or TCU. There will be less ball screens and off-ball action to confuse a defense. 

John Calipari's team likes to use the individual talent of players and try to beat you off the dribble. There's no Sharife Cooper or RJ Nembhard on the Wildcats who clearly resembles the heartbeat of the team. 

However, Kentucky doesn't need much momentum to keep it going the entire game. We should know very quickly whether the matchup with the Wildcats resembles the game against South Carolina, where the Tigers led wire to wire, or the struggle against TCU. 

Kentucky's key to the game

The Wildcats don't have Missouri's experience or composure in high-pressure situations. 

Kentucky would do well to make the game pass quickly by limiting possessions. Look at the tape against Bradley, for example. 

Neither team in that matchup scored more than 55 points, and the Braves nearly beat a then-undefeated Tigers team.

Wednesday's script will have to be similar for the Wildcats to win.

Final score prediction

No. 18 Missouri 73, Kentucky 68

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

Follow Mizzou basketball with the Tribune’s Tiger Extra newsletter. Sign up at columbiatribune.com/tigerextra for stories, galleries and podcasts in your inbox every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.