For the first time this season, Missouri men’s basketball enters a game with a losing record.

On the wrong end of four straight contests, the Tigers return to Southeastern Conference action Tuesday night against Georgia at Mizzou Arena.

Missouri (9-10, 1-5 SEC) looks to build up enough wins to avoid the bottom four in the final SEC standings. Any team in that quartet would have to win five straight games in five days at the league tournament in Nashville to advance to the NCAA Tournament.

Tuesday’s tip-off against the Bulldogs (11-8, 1-5) is set for 7:30 p.m. on SEC Network and will be radio broadcast on KTGR (105.1 FM).

Here’s a closer look at the Missouri vs. Georgia 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 Georgia starters: Anthony Edwards, Shavir Wheeler, Donnell Gresham Jr., Toumani Camara, Rayshaun Hammonds

Missouri player to watch

After not scoring a bucket in Saturday’s 74-51 loss to West Virginia, Tigers point guard Dru Smith getting back on track is of the utmost importance.

For a majority of Missouri’s past five games, Smith has been the heartbeat of the Tigers. As he goes, the team goes.

In the team's lone SEC win, Smith posted 22 points, six assists and five steals against Florida. The Tigers were within striking distance of victory against both Alabama and Texas A&M with strong performances from Smith.

But against Mississippi State and West Virginia, Smith has just two points in each game, and the Tigers were blown out in both.

Smith has taken on the responsibility of being Missouri's go-to player — especially with junior center Jeremiah Tilmon out of the lineup due to injury.

Smith is also the first-choice ballhandler for Missouri. While the offense has struggled over the past few games, Smith can pace the offense to regain its footing against a Georgia team that allows 74.8 points per game.

Georgia player to watch

The main attraction for Georgia, freshman phenom Anthony Edwards has long been pegged as a 2020 NBA Draft lottery selection.

Yet Edwards is facing some adversity in the middle of this season with the Bulldogs losing five of their past six games.

While Edwards has scored at least 13 points in each of those six contests, including twice scoring more than 20, there’s been at least one concerning stat across most of those performances.

Against Mississippi, he shot 25% from the field. He fouled out against Kentucky. He shot 12.5% from 3-point range in a loss to Mississippi State.

Edwards has tremendous potential and could come out firing against Missouri. Tigers head coach Cuonzo Martin and Co. are tasked with slowing him down. There could be a combination of players in a zone defense, or Martin could try to play a quick, small guard against Edwards such as Xavier Pinson or Javon Pickett.

Missouri’s key to the game

The Tigers had two stretches of dismal play against West Virginia on Saturday, including one where they scored only six points in the opening 12 minutes.

The other, which came at the beginning of the second half, saw the Mountaineers go on a 21-0 run that negated the Tigers’ upset bid after Missouri had trimmed its deficit to one point at halftime.

Those periods of lackluster play have happened far more frequently than anyone in Columbia would like.

The 45-point performance against Mississippi State? Making three shots in the last six minutes against Tennessee? The Tigers are in a rut.

What better time to end the struggles than against the team Missouri would face in the SEC Tournament if the regular season ended now.

Georgia’s key to the game

The Bulldogs have lost three straight games and are one of three SEC teams, along with Missouri and Ole Miss, that have just one win in league action.

None of those teams are at the bottom of the conference standings, as Vanderbilt at 0-6 holds that distinction. Every other SEC team has at least three league wins.

The Bulldogs may feel more desperation to get a win Tuesday because of Edwards' almost-certain impending move to the NBA. This is the one-year window to elevate the program with one of the elite freshmen in the country.

Georgia could play off that and catch a Missouri team in a skid to regain its poise with a majority of the conference slate remaining.

Final score prediction

Missouri 72, Georgia 66.

eblum@columbiatribune.com