Game previews for the rest of the season will be somewhat abbreviated and different from the previews we do during the conference season due to the compressed time frame. We will be focusing more on matchups than statistics, because at this point in the basketball season, stats become less important. Focus, motivation, and energy level are the driving factors during conference tournament time.
The Kentucky Wildcats and Mississippi Rebels are very similar teams in the starting lineup. Both are athletic, defend well, and can beat opponents in a lot of ways. Neither team is a great offensive rebounding team, but both are good in that area. Kentucky shoots the ball a bit better, but Ole Miss is a very good shooting team as well.
The current spread on this game is UK -4.5, which seems about right to me. This Ole Miss team is highly motivated and healthy, as are the Kentucky Wildcats. The Rebels know that they have managed to defeat Kentucky once this year, and the manner of that defeat has to give them confidence. They pushed the 'Cats around and handled them physically, and that's exactly what they will try to do again today.
Ole Miss Game Plan
The plan for the Rebels will be to get the ball inside to Terrance Henry and Reginald Buckner in order to to utilize their athletic advantage over Josh Harrellson. If the Wildcats stay home, they will keep trying to score from the interior both to hopefully get fouls on Harrellson and to force the defense to help, opening up their outside shooters.
The Rebels will want to play from inside out, and Kentucky's post players must force the quicker but slightly smaller Ole Miss players away from the basket and force them to make tougher shots or kick the ball back out to perimeter players.
Ole Miss will also run a lot of pick and roll action, and even some pick and pops with Zach Graham, who can shoot the three and really hurt Kentucky with slashes to the basket in the last meeting.
Defensively, Ole Miss will try to push Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb around. This worked well for them last time, as the quick, strong guards of Ole Miss forced Kentucky into an uncharacteristically high number of turnovers while taking good care of the ball themselves.
Kentucky Game Plan
Offensively, Kentucky will want to get Terrence Jones involved early and often. In the last meeting, Jones was a major factor early, and very late as he piled up fouls on the Rebels and made a high percentage from the line. What didn't happen last time was any involvement from Darius Miller, who is big enough to disadvantage Ole Miss' 3-guard offense and score both on the perimeter and down low. He didn't do either one in the last game against the Rebs.
The Wildcats will also try to force the issue in transition, and utilize their quickness to get the ball into scoring position very quickly on offense before Ole Miss has a chance to organize defensively. When Kentucky has been able to do this, they have often gotten out to big leads on teams which they later have to find ways to hold onto, but I like that option better than the alternative.
Kentucky will run high pick and rolls as always, and force Ole Miss to fight through Josh Harrellson screens, particularly to get to Brandon Knight. Hopefully, Knight will shoot the ball better than he did against the Rebels in Oxford and get to the line more. If he does, it will be a good sign for the Wildcats.
Defensively, Kentucky must find a way to help out Harrellson on the inside, where he is going against much more athletic and quicker players. Harrellson does better against size than speed, and UK will have to find ways to deny wing entries into the post when Ole Miss manages to get good position.
Kentucky must also use it's perimeter size to guard the three well and force the Rebels into taking challenged shots. Ole Miss can make threes with the best of them, particularly Warren, and Kentucky has to force the Rebels to beat them off the bounce.
- Brandon Knight vs. Chris Warren: The best 1-1 matchup of the year. Advantage: Push
- Nick Williams vs. Doron Lamb: Both are talented, both can score, both can shoot from three. Lamb got much the best of the last matchup, so I think he gets the nod. Advantage: Kentucky
- Darius Miller vs. Zach Graham: Perfect matchup between two very similar players. Graham got the best of the last matchup, but Miller has been coming on lately. Advantage: Push.
- Terrence Jones vs. Terrance Henry: Both can score, but Jones is far more talented. Advantage: Kentucky
- Josh Harrellson vs. Reginald Buckner: Buckner is a slightly more talented scorer, and not as good a rebounder. Still, I like Buckner in this matchup because of his athleticism. Advantage: Ole Miss.
- Bench: Ole Miss has a deeper bench than Kentucky, and Dundrecous Nelson is a talented scorer and Trevor Gaskins is an excellent defender. DeAndre Liggins is better than both of them individually, but not together, and even though Eloy Vargas is coming on of late, the nod goes to the Rebels.
Kentucky has the advantage in the starting five, but Ole Miss is better than their record and they have a deeper bench. With Chris Warren on the floor, anything can happen, and usually does -- just ask Coach Cal.
I do think that Kentucky is a more talented team and is much more dangerous with their great all-around shooting on offense. Ole Miss, when motivated, is a very physical and good defensive team, and if they are able to punk UK like they did in Oxford, this is going to be a nail-biter.
Fouls could play a very big role in this contest, because the Rebels are going to force UK to be as physical as they are, and Kentucky is not great at that. They have improved lately, but just how much will be sorely tested today.