The Rebels of Ole Miss are coming into town tonight, and they will be greeted by a Kentucky team that still has considerable work to do to perform an improbable Jujitsu on the 2008 season and secure an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament. Andy Kennedy's charges limp into Rupp Arena off a loss to LSU and losing 7 of their last 10 games. It's hard to believe this is the same Ole Miss team who won 15 of their first 16 games. Since starting the SEC season, the Rebels have plummeted out of the top 25 and now need a dramatic turnaround to have any NCAA aspirations at all.
Despite the fact that they have quality wins against teams like recently-hot New Mexico, Clemson, Florida and Vanderbilt, Ole Miss has suddenly hit a serious shooting slump, and in the SEC, that can be deadly. Ole Miss is 0 for the road in the SEC, and has only won one road game all year, at UCF. Not exactly a stern test.
Still, this team is capable of doing much harm, and despite their recent struggles, they are plenty formidable enough for the Wildcats this year.
The top contributors for the Rebels are as follows:
Per Game Averages
Expected starters are highlighted in yellow, as always.
The first name that should grab your attention above is Dwayne Curtis. Curtis is a 6'8", 262# widebody that averages almost 10 rebounds per game. Curtis is strictly an inside player, and seeing how Patterson handles a much older player who outmasses him by 20 lbs should be interesting. Patterson will face no more tenacious a rebounder than Curtis anytime this year, and did I mention he could score as well?
Jeremy Parnell is another big senor who seriously outmasses Perry Stevenson, but he isn't nearly the scoring or rebounding threat that Curtis is. David Huertas, a 6'5" shooting guard has recently worked his way back into the starting lineup. Huertas is a solid rebounder and scorer, although he is more of a slasher than a 3-point threat. The main 3-point threat comes from Chris Warren, a freshman point guard who has been a dynamic new player for the Rebels and can do all the things a great point guard can do, including shoot the ball. Warren, in most years, would be a serious threat to win freshman of the year in the league, but with so many great ones this year, he may have to settle for the all-freshman team instead. Rounding out the starting lineup is Eniel Polynice, a 6'5" swing player who prefers to slash, and is the Rebels' third leading scorer and rebounds the ball effectively as well.
The Cats match up fine against the Rebels, so there are no special mismatches for either team to exploit. The rebels do have a much deeper bench, though, with 11 players seeing 5 minutes or more a game.
Ole Miss under Andy Kennedy has run a very up-tempo, quick-strike offense. Ole Miss is capable of playing in the half court, but they prefer to run up and down the floor as fast as possible. Ole Miss tries to outscore people, and they will want a higher tempo for that reason. Ole Miss employs a motion offense in the half court, but they try to play half court as little as possible, preferring to constantly attack the basket on the run.
Chris Warren is a dangerous scorer, but the Rebels have two 45+% three-point shooters coming off the bench as well, and with Dwayne Curtis down low, they are truly a double-threat team. Kentucky must guard against penetration into the paint, as Ole Miss's guards love to slash at the basket. If their guards spend a lot of time in the paint, Ole Miss is usually very successful on offense. Chris Warren has fallen into a shooting slump lately, and that may mean even more than usual attempts to drive the ball inside.
Kennedy's team employs virtually every defensive strategy in the book, a mix of man-to-man, zone, zone press, half-court traps and almost any other defense you can imagine, and he sometimes tries to use every one of them in a game. I would imagine they will zone Kentucky quite a bit to limit Patterson, and to protect Dwayne Curtis, who is a bit foul-prone. Ole Miss really doesn't have any matchup problems with UK, so they can play any defense they want, and probably will try a good number of them.
Like most teams that play at such a high pace, Ole Miss creates a lot of turnovers in games they win. Similar to Tennessee, teams that take good care of the ball tend to give the Rebels trouble, and that is certainly a worry for Kentucky with their know propensity for generosity.
Still, the Rebels are not a particularly good defensive team, especially in the half court. Like most below-average defensive teams, they really tend to struggle later in the shot clock. Kentucky will surely use that fact to their advantage tonight. Ole Miss fouls almost as much as the Wildcats, but don't shot free throws nearly as well.
Intangibles and injuries:
Both teams are as healthy as they have been all season. Jodie Meeks is unlikely to play in this game, but he hasn't played in many, so that is just something the Cats have had to deal with all year long. If the home court is even half as raucous as it was for the Vanderbilt game, it just may be enough. Advantage -- Wildcats.
Kentucky wins if:
- They avoid turnovers. This is particularly true against Ole Miss.
- Bradley and Crawford continue to get into the lane.
- UK is able to keep Warren and Polynice in front of them.
- Kentucky outrebounds Ole Miss
- Ole Miss puts Kentucky on the line.
Ole Miss wins if:
- Dwayne Curtis outplays Patterson.
- The Ole Miss guards get into the paint a lot.
- Any of the UK big three are in foul trouble.
- Ole Miss comes out of their shooting slump.
- UK allows easy entry into the post.
This isn't a highly anticipated game, but it should be. These two teams are fairly even statistically, and although Kentucky may have slightly more talent, the Rebels have significantly more quality depth. Billy Gillispie has repeatedly told us how well Jared Carter is practicing, and even intimated on his most recent call-in show that Carter might find his way onto the court in this game. Personally, I would love to have a little depth in the paint, but I'm not counting on it.
But Ole Miss needs this win just as bad as we do, and even though they have historically had almost no success winning games in Rupp Arena, this team is fully capable of beating Kentucky if UK doesn't bring their "A" game. We will need all the defense, the determination, and the big play-ability of our seniors, as well as all the game the rest of the guys can muster up. There is no margin for error as far as Kentucky's tournament hopes are concerned, and dropping a game to Ole Miss at home could be a fatal blow.
But Kentucky has been very consistent lately, effort-wise, and they haven't allowed anything to distract them from their objective of winning basketball games. They haven't always been beautiful and they haven't always been efficient, but the Cats have found ways to get the job done, and in the end, that's what matters. I am confident that if Kentucky continues to bring the no-holds-barred defense and continues improving their ballhandling and offensive flow, we will be able to pick up the "W" tonight.