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What to know as No. 20 Mizzou basketball seeks to end two-game skid against Georgia

Eric Blum
Columbia Daily Tribune

If it feels like a while since Missouri men's basketball has enjoyed a comfortable victory, that's because it has been — especially for a team of its caliber. 

Since the Tigers defeated then-No. 6 Tennessee at home by nine points on Jan. 23, Missouri has lost to Auburn, claimed three victories by a combined 12 points and then lost to Mississippi and Arkansas.

That latter duo of defeats last week sent Missouri tumbling to No. 20 in the latest Associated Press Top 25, its lowest ranking since entering the poll nine weeks ago. 

The Tigers' challenges continue with a road game against Georgia on Tuesday night. The Bulldogs were undefeated entering Southeastern Conference play but have put up a 5-8 record in their league slate.

Missouri is 13-5 overall and 6-5 in the conference. The Tigers have won their past three games against Georgia, dating back to a 2018 SEC Tournament matchup. 

Missouri starting center Jeremiah Tilmon will not travel to Athens for the game, continuing his leave of absence from the Tigers due to a death in his family. Tilmon's absence was announced before Missouri's game against Arkansas on Saturday. 

Tilmon is the Tigers' third-leading scorer at 12.8 points per game, leading rebounder with 7.8 per game and tops the team in blocks with 23 on the season. 

Tuesday's Tigers at Bulldogs 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 at Georgia 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, Mitchell Smith

Who are the projected Georgia starters?

Toumani Camara, P.J. Horne, Sahvir Wheeler, Tye Fagan, Justin Kier

Missouri guard Xavier Pinson (1) dunks against Arkansas during the first half Saturday at Mizzou Arena.

Missouri player to watch

No one can make up for Tilmon's presence, but Missouri has shown a shift in its offensive identity while the 6-foot-10 standout is out.

There isn't a more important player to that shift than point guard Xavier Pinson

Pinson not only plays a primary scoring role for the team but is one of its best distributors as well. 

The Chicago native led the Tigers in scoring Saturday against Arkansas with 23 points. He didn't just score in bulk; Pinson was efficient, too. 

In 30 minutes on the floor, Pinson was 7 of 13 from the field, including 5-for-8 from 3-point range. He committed only one turnover. 

Pinson figures to have a big say in whether Missouri breaks out of its recent funk.

Georgia's Toumani Camara (10) defends Alabama guard Keon Ellis, left, during a game Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Georgia player to watch

If Missouri's best low-post player isn't in the game, expect the Bulldogs' starting forwards to get the green light from head coach Tom Crean. 

Georgia's Toumani Camara represents his team's best rebounding and close-range scoring option. 

Camara is the Bulldogs' third-leading scorer with 12.6 points per game and their leading rebounder and shot-blocker by a long distance. 

He will draw the attention of Kobe Brown, Mitchell Smith and Parker Braun, and should he have the upper hand in those matchups, Georgia will have a chance at the upset. 

Missouri’s key to the game

Of the five remaining games currently on the Tigers' regular-season schedule, Missouri will be favored in four of them, with a March 3 trip to Florida being the lone exception. 

Last week was far from ideal for the Tigers, and being away from Mizzou Arena will make for tougher sledding to get things back on track. 

The performance against Arkansas should be taken with a grain of salt, however. We don't know how long the team had notice of Tilmon's absence, and therefore, how long his teammates had notice of the massive void to fill. 

Now that Missouri has had time to practice without Tilmon, there should be more to draw from the game against Georgia. 

Even with the asterisk that comes with the game against the Razorbacks, Missouri nearly defeated the now-No. 24 team in the country without Tilmon. Eric Musselman's Arkansas squad couldn't take down the Tigers in regulation.

That's the silver lining from Missouri's first loss of five points or less this season. 

Georgia's key to the game

The Bulldogs gave up 115 points to Alabama on Saturday, allowing the Crimson Tide to shoot over 64% from the field in the game. 

Georgia was 2-for-19 from 3-point range itself in the defeat.

If no change occurs from the performance that led to both of those trends, Missouri will get just what it needs Tuesday — a comfortable win. 

Returning to Stegeman Coliseum should help the Bulldogs, even with crowd restrictions in place because of COVID-19.

Missouri is desperate for a victory to keep its NCAA Tournament seeding as strong as possible. Georgia could catch a Tiger team trying to do too much at once. 

Final score prediction

No. 20 Missouri 84, Georgia 72

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

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