The Kentucky Wildcats take the court for the last time in 2016, and they need to get the taste of the Louisville loss out of their mouths. It’s been a frustrating December for John Calipari’s Wildcats as they dropped two of their three primetime matchups in games that they probably should have won. As Kentucky fans have discovered, that is what happens when you play a lot of freshmen.
The Wildcats start SEC play against an Ole Miss team that seems to have been overlooked a little bit in the preseason SEC rankings. The Rebels were picked to finish 9th in the SEC but are 9-3 on the season. They are still looking for a marquee win, and this will be a tough game on the road for John Calipari. Cal is 8-1 against the Rebels, but that one loss came on the road in 2011.
Road games for John Calipari are always something UK fans are nervous about until his team has a couple of road wins under their belt. With that said, let's meet the Rebels.
#2 G - CULLEN NEAL (JR 6'5, 195) 12.3 PPG, 2.7 APG, 2.0 RPG
#1 G - DEANDRE BURNETT (JR 6'2, 194) 19.2 PPG, 2.8 APG, 2.3 RPG
#3 G - TERENCE DAVIS (SO 6'4, 201) 12.8 PPG 5.5 RPG, 1.2 APG
#5 F - MARCANUIS HYMON (JR 6'7, 216) 4.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.4 BPG
#11 F - SEBASTIAN SAIZ (SR 6'9, 240) 15.2 PPG, 12.1 RPG, 1.5 BPG
Cullen Neal seems to be a lot happier and more productive in his first season at Ole Miss after transferring from New Mexico. Neal hits 43.1% from long range after hitting 32.7% last season. He has also cut way down on his turnovers and has cut them in half, from 3.3 a game to 1.6. He's a coaches kid, so he has a good head on his shoulders.
DeAndre Burnett is a transfer from Miami and is good at getting fouled and getting to the free throw line where he hits 91.9%. He's also a decent three point shooter at 38.7% which is actually better than his overall percentage of 35%. Terence Davis has really stepped up as a sophomore, and he hits 47% from the field and 32.6% from long-range. He is a decent rebounder and defender and averages 1.3 steals a game but has the tendency to get into foul trouble.
Marcanius Hymon hits 58.1% of his shots but takes just 2.6 shots a game. His range is limited to right around the rim although he is decent on defense and averages 1.4 blocks a game in just 21 minutes. He also had a tendency to get into foul trouble. Sebastian Saiz has improved dramatically over his senior year and could get some All-SEC votes. He is hitting a career high 53.9% of his shots and even hits the occasional three-pointer. Almost all of his numbers are up across the board, but he can still get into foul trouble.
#14 G - RASHEED BROOKS (SR 6'5, 201) 8.7 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.3 APG
#0 G - DONTE FITZPATRICK-DORSEY (SO 6'4, 183) 1.5 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 0.6 APG
#50 F - JUSTAS FURMANAVICIUS (JR 6'6, 200) 5,3 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.6 BPG
#4 G - BREEIN TYREE (FR 6'2, 190) 2.1 PPG, 1.7 APG, 0.7 APG
Rasheed Brooks brings experience and scoring off the bench. He hits 35.8% from long range but is the type of streaky shooter that can take over a game. He is not a great passer though and averages almost two turnovers a game. Ole Miss will get about 20 minutes a game combined from Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey and Breein Tyree, but the pair does not offer much in the way of scoring. Dorsey hits 33% of his three-pointers and Tyree is a little better rebounder.
Justas Furmanavicius is solid off the bench and hits 48.1% from the field. He has a little bit of range and can knock down the mid-range jumpers and will take a three-pointer if he has a good look. He also is solid in the paint on defense with 1.6 blocks a game. Like a lot of the Rebels big men, he gets into foul trouble and hits just 41% of his free throws
WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
In both the Louisville and the UCLA game, I thought that Kentucky could have given themselves a big advantage by using their guards to drive and pick up cheap fouls against the opposing big men. Kentucky really did not do that much in the previous games, but this is another opportunity to employ that strategy.
This should be a good test for Kentucky on the road as while the Rebels do not have any marquee wins yet, they have battled all year and have just a five-point loss to Virginia and gave Creighton a pretty good game. As John Calipari likes to say, road games in the SEC are every other team's "Super Bowl, " and this game is no exception. Wins against Kentucky are rare, as the Wildcats have a 104-13 record all-time against the Rebels.
This is still a game that Kentucky should win, despite the venue. The Rebels are a decent offensive team, but they are not very good defensively. Kentucky should be able to name their score against the Rebels, and if this gets into a running match, it could be over early.
The Rebels do not take good care of the basketball either and have a lot of turnovers. As a team, they have a negative A/TO ratio, and this is an area where the Kentucky guards could dominate and control the game.
The Rebels are a better three-point shooting team than Kentucky (36.7% to 33.2%), but they still struggle to score at times. They are still not a good shooting team, overall, as they hit 43.4% of their shots to UK's 48.4%. The big difference here will be the three-point defense. The Rebels allow teams to hit 38.9% of their three-pointers, while the Wildcats clamp down on their opponents to the tune of 29.4%.
The bottom line is that Kentucky is better than the Rebels in pretty much every aspect of the game and this should be a game they win going away. Seeing that this is a hostile road environment, that will be easier said and done, and I admit, I always am a little nervous to see what Kentucky team will show up on the road. That said, I think this will be a special team and they are up to the challenges of the road, and they will win 85-73.