4:36:29 UKvsUofLMBB2019

Kentucky freshman guard Tyrese Maxey and Kentucky sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley smile at the end of the first half during the Kentucky vs University of Louisville men’s basketball game on Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 78-70. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

The No. 17 Kentucky Wildcats (9-3) are set to tip off Southeastern Conference play with a matchup against Cuonzo Martin’s Missouri Tigers. Former NBA draftee Martin has led the Tigers to an 8-4 record on the season, including a current four-game winning streak. 

Missouri is coming off a 91-33 drubbing of Chicago State where the team shot over 50 percent collectively for only the second time this season. Sophomore Torrence Watson had career highs in points and 3-point field goals made, going for 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting from deep. The eight made threes was a new single-game record for Mizzou Arena, however this time he’ll look to do it in Rupp.

Size is set to be vital for the Wildcats in their game plan. Missouri’s top three rebounding leaders are all guards-- Mark Smith (4.9 rebounds per game), Dru Smith (4.7 rebounds per game), and Javon Pickett (4.5 rebounds per game) lead the Tigers respectively. For the Cats, Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery should look to controlling the boards as a key aspect to winning the game.

Shooting efficiently will also be key for the Wildcats. The goal might seem obvious and redundant, however they are set up against a Missouri team that has not allowed a team to shoot over 40 percent since November. 

Just as Kentucky had to plan for the Wesson brothers with Ohio State a couple weeks ago, they will attempt to control the duo of Mark and Dru Smith. While the two have almost identical numbers, both averaging 11.8 points per game and only being separated by .2 in rebounds per game, they appear to play wildly different games. 

Dru is the primary ball-handler for Mizzou and relies more on an inside scoring game. Mark is more of a shooter who relies on the 3-point game, as he leads the Tigers in 3-point shooting (for players with more than one attempt) with a 40.5 percent clip from deep.

Missouri may still be without forward Jeremiah Tillmon as he is still considered day-to-day dealing with a foot injury that forced him to miss the Chicago State matchup. Tillmon is currently third on the team in points per game with 9.2 per game.

The Tigers mainly rely on their bench scoring coming from Javon Pickett and Xavier Pinson. Pickett (7.8 points per game) and Pinson (8.3 points per game) are not particularly strong on their outside shooting, however, they can make up for it by getting to the rim. Before Chicago State, the two scored 17 and 14 points respectively in a victory over Illinois.

The Tigers should be looking towards their defensive tenacity and solid guard play as a blueprint to being competitive against the Kentucky Wildcats.