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What to know as No. 10 Mizzou basketball looks to continue winning ways against Ole Miss

Eric Blum
Columbia Daily Tribune

No. 10 Missouri men's basketball hopes its high ranking will stick this time.

The Tigers' previous journeys into the top 15 of The Associated Press poll this season were followed by a lull. After they rose to No. 13, they lost their next game to Mississippi State. After being slotted No. 12, Missouri fell one day later to Auburn.

Now holding its highest ranking in over eight years, Cuonzo Martin and his team face another tricky matchup Wednesday night at Mississippi. 

The Rebels have won each of their past two games — each by two points.

Missouri remains in sole possession of second place in the Southeastern Conference. The Tigers are 13-3 overall and 6-3 in league play, while Ole Miss stands at 10-8 overall and 5-6 in the SEC.

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The Tigers' grasp on second place halfway through their conference slate isn't firm, with four teams only a half-game behind them in the standings.

Missouri is three games back of first-place Alabama, with the Tigers still needing to reschedule home games against Vanderbilt and LSU. The top four teams at the end of conference play earn a double bye in the SEC Tournament. 

Wednesday's Tigers at Rebels tipoff is slated for 8 p.m. on SEC Network and will be radio broadcast on KTGR (105.1 FM).

Here’s a closer look at the Missouri at Ole Miss 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 Ole Miss starters?

Robert Allen, Romello White, Luis Rodriguez, Jarkel Joiner, Devontae Shuler

Missouri guard Mark Smith (13) drives toward the basket during a game against Alabama on Saturday at Mizzou Arena.

Missouri player to watch

With his insertion back into the starting lineup Saturday because of an ankle injury to Javon Pickett, senior guard Mark Smithhad his chance to shine. 

After starting the first 13 games of the season, Pickett took over that role for the wins over TCU and Kentucky. Smith re-entered the starting lineup against Alabama and played for 37 minutes. 

Smith scored 12 points against the Crimson Tide, but was only 1-for-8 from 3-point range, his usual bread and butter. 

That showing is a rarity from Smith, but the other parts of his game made up for it. He was Missouri's best defensive player against Alabama and made four 2-pointers. 

Pickett's status doesn't appear to have changed for Wednesday, so expect another heavy dose of Smith.

Mississippi guard Devontae Shuler (2) attempts a shot past Tennessee guard Josiah-Jordan James (5) during a game Feb. 2 in Oxford, Miss.

Ole Miss player to watch

Rebels' guard Devontae Shuler, alongside Missouri's Dru Smith, were named co-SEC players of the week Monday.

Shuler, a 6-foot-2 senior, averaged 20.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, two assists and two steals in wins over No. 11 Tennessee and at Auburn last week.

Shuler scored a season-high 26 points at Auburn, 23 of them coming in the second half and overtime. He also swished the game-winning shot with 0.2 seconds left.

He doesn't lack on-court experience, and Shuler has taken a big step forward in his fourth season in Oxford. Shuler leads the Rebels in scoring at 15.5 points per game. 

Missouri’s key to the game

The Tigers keep finding ways to win close games but have their fair share of red flags after being in danger of losing each of their past three games.

Against TCU, even an average defensive performance would have handed Missouri a regulation win instead of needing overtime to take down the Horned Frogs. 

Kentucky is a tough out despite its record but hung around for too long against a vastly more-experienced Missouri squad.

Missouri's second half against Alabama in its most recent outing was a stress-inducer, with a 22-point lead shrinking down to one and giving the Crimson Tide multiple chances to win the game late.

That heartbreaking loss would have been an irremovable stain on the Tigers' season.

Missouri needs to play free and put 40 consistent minutes together. The Tigers haven't played their best basketball yet, and Wednesday against a solid Ole Miss team would be a good occasion to play how they will need to come March.

Missouri guard Dru Smith (12) shoots the ball during a game against Alabama on Saturday at Mizzou Arena.

Ole Miss' key to the game 

In the Rebels' past six games, they have one victory over each of the three teams that have defeated Missouri this season.

While Missouri won't get a regular-season rematch against Auburn or Mississippi State, Ole Miss' ability to contend with anyone in the SEC is something to behold.

Both matchups last season between the teams were close and came down to the final few possessions.

A heavy majority of both rosters are back for the first of two meetings in 13 days.

It would be shocking if the Rebels started this game flat with a top-10 team coming to The Pavilion.

Final score prediction

No. 10 Missouri 76, Ole Miss 72

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

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