Every game is a must-win contest for the Kentucky Wildcats at this point in the season.
Even though John Calipari's team will likely reach the 20-win plateau, it faces the very real possibility of missing the NCAA tournament altogether.
Enter Missouri. The Tigers are coming off their biggest win of the year (vs. Florida on Feb. 19) and are widely considered the second-best team in the weak SEC.
With a win over Missouri, Kentucky would stake its claim as the second-best team in the SEC. Furthermore, the Wildcats would have another much-needed resume-building win for the NCAA tournament.
Here are my five keys for a Kentucky victory over Missouri.
College GameDay will be in Lexington for this game.
At the beginning of the year, the showdown was pegged as one that would have a heavy influence on the SEC race.
While it still has implications on the SEC race, neither team is having an ideal season.
Big Blue Nation should be hyped for this game. A win against Missouri (and every other team to end this season) is a necessity for the Wildcats to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive.
The Kentucky defense has struggled to contain guards.
Phil Pressey might be the best guard Kentucky has faced all season.
For Kentucky to beat Missouri, they will need to force Pressey—one of the best guards in the nation—into difficult shots.
The 22-year-old is the ignition for the Missouri offense. Without him, his team will struggle.
Regardless of who is guarding Pressey, it will take a team effort and much focus to contain his play-making ability.
Kentucky doesn't have depth down low.
While Willie Cauley-Stein can be more than sufficient in that area for the Wildcats (check his stat line against Vanderbilt), there isn't much depth behind him.
Alex Poythress and Kyle Wiltjer both need to play sound defense—without fouling. Both are big enough to combat Alex Oriakhi and Laurence Bowers down low, but don't have the experience (Poythress) or speed (Wiltjer) to match.
Missouri isn't burdened with big men, either. However, their perimeter players more than make up for any foul trouble.
Guard play has always been hit-or-miss for Kentucky this season.
That, in part, is because of the youth on the Kentucky roster. Ups and downs are expected. However, at this point in the season, these kinks should be worked out. Players should know what to expect from each other.
So, what can we expect from Ryan Harrow and Archie Goodwin?
If both are playing their best (which hasn't happened for a full 40 minutes this season), Kentucky will beat Missouri.
If either decide to play passively, Kentucky will have a tough time beating Missouri.
Passionate play can define a player, a coach and a team.
Passion does not define the 2012-13 Kentucky Wildcats.
Alex Poythress has embodied the Wildcats' season. He and his teammates have enormous potential. That much is still true to this day, even in the midst of a substandard season.
When Kentucky plays with passion, they have the look of a top-25 team. Now is the time for Kentucky to play with passion.
On Feb. 23, Kentucky plays Missouri in Rupp Arena. A win will put the Wildcats on an inside track to the NCAA tournament. A loss will all but end the Wildcats' dancing aspirations.