The Mississippi Rebels ride into Rupp Arena tonight for a face-off with the Kentucky Wildcats as two of the top teams in the SEC gird up for what promises to be an entertaining contest.
After an outstanding non-conference season, the Rebels have run into rough sailing lately as their SEC foes begin to find their footing. The new and improved (with Courtney Fortson) Arkansas Razorbacks announced their return to conference relevance, at least as a spoiler, Sunday night when they defeated Ole Miss in a snow-delayed contest in the Tad Pad that was originally supposed to be held on Saturday. That loss left the Rebels one game above .500 in the SEC, and they are undoubtedly spoiling for a fight with the Wildcats tonight, even with only one day of rest.
Let's take a quick look at the comparison between the Commodores and the 'Cats, courtesy of Statsheet.com:
|Rank and Records||UK||Ole Miss|
|Strength of Schedule||#71||#78|
|RPI Top 50||5-0||0-2|
Significant wins for Ole Miss have come versus the Kansas St. Wildcats (12), the UTEP Miners (40) the South Carolina Gamecocks (75) and the Georgia Bulldogs (84). Significant losses have been versus the Villanova Wildcats (13), the West Virginia Mountaineers (7), the Mississippi St. Bulldogs (35), and the Tennessee Volunteers (25) (rankings via Kenpom.com). So far, I guess you could say, the Rebels are 1-1 against the Wildcats this year.
More after the jump. Just like last time, I did the first part of this analysis and Ken did the second part starting with the position analysis. For more on the Ole Miss Rebels be sure to visit the SB Nation Ole Miss blog, Red Cup Rebellion.
We will begin the analysis by the usual look at the dashboard. Don't forget, this thing is interactive.
Four Factors Analysis
Looking at efficiencies first, the Wildcats are narrowly in the green overall this year both offensively and defensively, while the Rebels are high in the yellow on offense and mid-yellow on defense. Zooming in a bit closer on the SEC season (the last seven games, the Wildcats and the Rebels are beginning to suffer a bit. There have been few games where the Rebels have been as or more efficient than the Wildcats on offense, and only one game in the last seven where they have been as efficient on defense.
Looking past the efficiencies into the Four Factors, over the last seven games, both the Rebels and the Wildcats have shot virtually equal field goal percentages, and the trend over the last three games has Ole Miss shooting better than the Wildcats by a bit. Most of that can be attributed to some fairly weak competition, though, as their last three opponents have been the LSU Tigers, the Auburn Tigers, and the Arkansas Razorbacks, none of whom are particularly good defensive squads.
Turnovers continue to be UK's bugaboo, and that's no different versus the Rebels, who have an advantage there. But as with virtually every team UK has played this year, offensive rebound percent is hugely in favor of the Wildcats, as is free throw rate percent.
Defensively, the Wildcats are better by a small but significant amount, and over the last three games, the Ole Miss Rebels have been trending worse in defensive field goal percentage, while the Wildcats have been staying fairly constant. The Wildcats force more turnovers, allow about the same number of offensive rebounds against them, and Ole Miss has a tendency to put teams on the line more than the Wildcats do.
Kentucky is a slightly better 3-point shooting team, helped no doubt by their 52% performance against the Vanderbilt Commodores. The Rebels, however, take far more 3-point shots per field goal attempt than UK does, but that trend seems to be reversing a bit for Kentucky as more and more opponents pack in their defenses to guard DeMarcus Cousins, leaving UK's perimeter players open for mostly unopposed threes. That's a pick-your-poison strategy that is statistically sound, but so far, the Wildcats have been taking care of business from the outside.
Ole Miss uses their bench more, and both teams play at roughly the same tempo, so we should see a fairly fast-paced game tonight.
Mississippi Rebels Basketball Roster
|Reginald Buckner||2||F||Reserve, limited role player||210||6-8||freshman|
|DeAundre Cranston||52||F||Starter, limited role player||251||6-9||senior|
|Trevor Gaskins||23||G||Reserve, significant contributor||204||6-2||sophomore|
|Zach Graham||32||G||Reserve, role player||225||6-6||junior|
|Terrance Henry||1||F||Starter, limited role player||192||6-9||sophomore|
|Murphy Holloway||31||F||Reserve, significant contributor||225||6-7||sophomore|
|Eniel Polynice||14||G||Starter, major contributor||225||6-5||junior|
|DeAngelo Riley||44||F||Reserve, limited role player||235||6-9||Jr|
|Chris Warren||12||G||Starter, major contributor||165||5-10||junior|
|Terrico White||24||G||Starter, significant contributor||211||6-5||sophomore|
Position Analysis: Point Guards
Like Kentucky's John Wall and Eric Bledsoe, Ole Miss has two interchangeable guards; both can ably play the point, or shooting guard. Chris Warren, who is the Rebels' primary point, is typical of the guards UK has faced over the last two games: A scorer (team leading 16.7 points per game), capable of driving to the rim, or shooting a high percentage from three-point range (65-161 for 40.4%). Take notice of the 161 three-point attempts (out of 272 total shots). That equates to 7.7 threes taken per game.
Warren, at only 5'10," is a bit undersized, but he is very quick, and whomever draws the assignment of guarding him (Bledsoe, Wall, Liggins) will have a dilemma on their hands: Should they closely guard him and risk Warren penetrating, or back off, cutting off his drives, yet allowing him space for a three-point attempt? Keep in mind Warren has a quick release, and range for days.
Six-five sophomore Terrico White is the other half of the outrageous Rebel guard corp. White, who gained valuable point guard experience last season when Warren went down to a season-ending knee injury, has this year found a happy home playing alongside his Rebel comrade. A much more physical presence than Warren, White is a threat to score from anywhere on the court, either inside or outside. He's a capable rebounder (4.7 per game), so a blue body must find him on the shot.
John Wall's game has seen his ability to finish at the rim wane a bit of late (10-30 inside the arc over the last three games), although he is drawing fouls, and his mid-range and outside game experience a welcome surge (he's made 5 of his last 10 three attempts). How that will carry-over into tonight's contest is any body's guess, but the smart money is on Wall continuing to do that which he does best: Lead the break, find the open shooter, and score when given the opportunity. He'll be a difficult "out" for whomever in the zone is responsible for his movements (and yes, I feel a big game by Mr. Wall coming on).
Eric Bledsoe will be asked to make the three-point shot (2-8 last three games), drive off the dribble, and shut down Terrico White. This is an interesting match-up, because White is athletic, a terrific shooter, and a physical presence on the floor, not unlike Bledsoe. I expect those two guys to battle all night.
Advantage: Slight Kentucky
Position Analysis: Swing
Eniel Polynice, at 6'5," has the body of a shooting guard, but a big man's mentality. He averages 4.4 rebounds per game, and leads the team in assists with 4.2 per game. Not an outside threat (7-25 from beyond the arc), Polynice does his damage inside the paint (10.6 points per game). He's an aggressive defender, capable of guarding bigger players.
UK's Darius Miller just needs to play his game. Which is to take the open three, when presented the opportunity, dribble-drive, defend the perimeter, and grab his share of rebounds. But Miller, over the last two games (in which he's played a total of 22 minutes), has scored zero points, committed four fouls, and grabbed one rebound.
Miller's confidence is in need of a shot of adrenaline. He's such an unselfish kid, but he needs to be unafraid to assert himself on the court. After Darnell Dodson and DeAndre Liggins out-performed Miller in the Vandy game, hopefully the Maysville sophomore will be highly motivated to play his best tonight.
Position Analysis: Power Forward
Murphy Holloway, a 6'7" sophomore, has been one of the pleasant surprises of the SEC season. Holloway has been excellent on the glass, averaging 7.0 rebounds per game on the year, and he put together a monster game against Arkansas Sunday night, going for 19 points and 17 rebounds.
Holloway is not a long ranger shooter, or a very good free throw shooter for that matter (47.4% from the charity stripe), but he's around the ball when the ball is near the basket. He's one of those guys that has a nose for the ball, and those players need to be accounted for on the defensive end. He averages 10.0 points per game (7.1 SEC),
UK's DeMarcus Cousins ... well, what's the best way to put this? He's set up to have a rather large game. Ole Miss has no one on their roster who remotely resembles his size: The Ole Miss paint patrol consists of Holloway, 6'9" DeAndre Cranston, 6'9" Terrance Henry, and 6'8" Reginald Buckner, and I have a feeling Andy Kennedy is going to need each one of them tonight (Buckner hurt his ankle toward the end of Ole Miss' game versus Auburn on Thursday, and missed UM's game with Arkansas on Sunday).
Cousins has simply been unstoppable of late, and unless UK gets way down, I expect the game-plan to consist of a major dose of Cousins, followed by a dollop of perimeter action. John Calipari is a big fan of feeding the hot hand, and I see no reason to alter that philosophy at this juncture.
"Hot hand?" you say, check out the beastly numbers from Cousins' last four game: He's 27-43 from the floor (62.8%); he's made 26-35 free throws (74.3%), an average of 8.8 free throws per game; he's grabbed 47 rebounds (11.8 per game), with 21 of those the offensive variety (5.3 per game); in the four games Cousins has nine blocks, five assists, and five steals. And, oh yeah, 20.0 points per game, in an average of 26.3 minutes per game.
So excuse me if I exclaim ...
Advantage: Big Kentucky
Position analysis: Center
Six-nine senior DeAundre Cranston has been starting at the cemter spot, but he averages only 16.1 minutes per game. He takes full advantage of this time on the floor, though. Cranston, who will take the occasional three-pointer (7-25), is another crafty Rebel around the basket, averaging 4.9 points per game in conference play, to go along with 4.0 rebounds. Most of his scoring comes from inside the paint off hustle plays.
UK's Patrick Patterson, who was hot from behind the arc on Saturday, may have found the scoring niche he's been searching for since early January. Saturday, as the guards delivered the ball to Patterson in scoring position, the big fella took full advantage, making 3-4 treys, lifting his season average to 41.9%. I look for UK to continue to feed Patterson perimeter passes, but if he makes his first trey try or two, Ole Miss will be forced to account for him, possibly pulling a big man from underneath the basket to cover the shooter. In which case, DeMarcus Cousins will feel like a liberated man.
Ole Miss brings 6'6" swing Zach Graham, 6'9" sophomore forward Terrance Henry (who occasionally starts), 6'8" freshman center/forward Reginald Buckner, and 6'2" sophomore guards Trevor Gaskins off the bench.
Graham is the designated three-point shooter, and he's quite good at his role, having made 31-71 trey tries (42.7%), and averaging 10.0 points per game. Gaskins (14.7 minutes per game), the other guard off the bench, also takes multiple threes per game -- 55 of his 85 shots taken have been treys -- but he makes only 21.8%.
Post players Henry (14.7 mpg), and Buckner (18.2 mpg) both shoot the ball well (over 60.0%), and Buckner is the team's leading shot blocker, averaging 2.2 per game. Buckner is the more physical presence of the two, but both bang the boards.
The Ole Miss bench scored 28 points in the Rebels' game against LSU, and they average 24.6 points per game on the year.
Darnell Dodson (if he doesn't start again), Daniel Orton, DeAndre Liggins, Perry Stevenson, and Ramon Harris will be coming off the bench for the 'Cats.
I look for Daniel Orton to have a big defensive game. If he can stay out of foul trouble, his size and shot blocking ability will be a real asset to the 'Cats. Calipari has talked recently about playing Orton more minutes. Tonight would be a nice time to start.
DeAndre Liggins, who has played wonderfully lately, is simply bringing intensity, floor-burn hustle, and great defensive effort each time he enters the game. He's shooting the ball well (52.2%), and even making the three-point shot consistently (6-11). He played 25 minutes versus Vandy, by far his most floor minutes this season.
Dodson, who has played a combined 39 minutes over the last two games, after playing a combined 17 minutes the previous two contests, has been taking aim more often of late. In the last two games, Dodson has made 5-13 three-point attempts (an acceptable 38.5%). As long as he's making shots, he'll get playing time, if not, look for Liggins take up the slack.
Advantage: Slight Ole Miss
On paper, and as stated before, this game sets up nicely for UK's big men, especially DeMarcus Cousins. If Andy Kennedy doesn't figure out a way to stop UK's beast inside, it could be a long night for the Rebs. Conversely, the 'Cats have been educated in the ways of the scoring point guard over the last two games, and Ole Miss has a duo of penetrating, scoring points.
The pace of the game, which I think will be quick, might help mitigate UK's size advantage. It's a little crazy to think Kennedy might want a fast pace of play, but a quick-silver pace might be his best chance of offsetting the paint advantage UK possesses. Certainly his guards, Warren and White, are capable, and accustomed to pushing the ball up the floor.
On this night, though, with the advantage of playing in Rupp Arena, I think the 'Cats will have the answers. With Cousins on the blocks, towering over his nearest competitor, ball denial should be on the Reb's minds when in their half court defense. But that's a dangerous game to play, because if the ball gets into Cousins' hands (as it is apt to do), in a one-on-one situation, score two (at least) for the home team.
Kentucky needs to guard the perimeter. Guard the perimeter, and guard the perimeter some more. Ole Miss averages taking around 25 three-point shots per game, and I expect them to surpass that number tonight.
A final potential game factor: Ole Miss is playing their third game in six days. Due to the recent snow storm, they last played Sunday night against Arkansas, instead of Saturday afternoon, so they've had very little prep time for this contest.
Projected score: Kentucky 83 Ole Miss 70