The Kentucky Wildcats started January in poor fashion. After narrowly defeating LSU at home, they suffered back-to-back embarrassing losses to Alabama and South Carolina. However, the team regrouped and started a four-game winning streak before losing to Kansas this past Saturday.
Given Kentucky’s impressive and quick turnaround, there is still one game remaining in the month as they will travel to Oxford, Mississippi to take on the Ole Miss Rebels on Tuesday.
The Rebels are currently below .500 with a 9-12 record overall and tied for the last in the SEC at 1-7. Their lone win came against South Carolina but battled Tennessee to the wire to open conference play, losing 63-59.
With Kentucky coming to town Ole Miss will put up their best effort and that starts with a good crowd as they will have a ‘powder blue out’. With that said, Kentucky is still on the NCAA Tournament bubble and cannot afford to drop a game against a lesser opponent.
Let’s take a closer look at what to watch for.
Kentucky has been one of the best rebounding teams in the country, specifically on the offensive boards and a large part of that is Oscar Tshiebwe. This has been key in Kentucky’s turnaround, as they averaged over 38 rebounds per game while outrebounding their opponent by 13.
Against Kansas, the undersized Jayhawks put two bodies on Tshiebwe and challenged the other four Wildcats to rebound, and they failed to do that. Also undersized, Ole Miss will likely try to do the same.
While the Wildcats must grab offensive rebounds of their own, they must also limit the Rebels on the offensive boards. The Rebels don’t have a true big, but they do a good job at rebounding as a team, ranked 69th in the country (36.9 rpg). This means that each Wildcat will need to get back to boxing out and fighting for every rebound.
In Need of a CJ Fredrick Game
One asset of Kentucky’s new ‘Basketball Benny’ lineup that makes it effective is that CJ Fredrick and Antonio Reeves are on the floor together. When these two share the floor, it creates space for both of them to be more effective.
Reeves is taking full advantage of the open looks and is playing his best basketball of the season. However, Fredrick, while getting open looks, is struggling. In Kentucky’s last five games - the four-game winning streak + Kansas - Fredrick is shooting just 23.5% from three.
A career 47% three-point shooter prior to the season, Fredrick is in desperate need of a confidence-building game. At some point, you have to think the open looks will begin to fall, and Oxford would be as good a place as any. If the Wildcats want to make a deep run, Fredrick has to begin hitting his shots with more consistency.
Ole Miss is not an efficient shooting team (42.8%), nor do they have a lot of scoring options. Junior guard, Matthew Murrell, is the only Rebel averaging double-digit points (14.9 ppg) and he has a history of playing well against Kentucky. Last season, Murrell went off for 25 points in a losing effort at Rupp Arena.
Murrell looks to get most of his points from three but is shooting a career-low 29% on nearly seven attempts per game. Yet, he is athletic and strong enough to take it off the dribble. Cason Wallace, one of the best perimeter defenders in the SEC, will be tasked to guard Murrell.
It is important to note that Murrell did suffer a knee injury and has not played in the last two games, but he is listed day-to-day.
Kentucky Basketball (14-7) vs. Ole Miss Rebels (9-12)
Time/Date: 9:00 pm ET on Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Location: The Sandy and John Black Pavilion in Oxford, MS
TV Channel: ESPN
Online Stream: WatchESPN, ESPN+, SEC Network+ or ESPN app
Radio: Tom Leach and Jack Givens have the UK radio network call on the UK Sports Radio Network.
Replay: WatchESPN and SEC Network (check local listings).
Odds: DraftKings Sportsbook has Kentucky -6.5. ESPN’s matchup predictor gives Kentucky a good chance to win at 68.3%, but Bart Torvik has it close to a toss-up, giving the Cats a 53% chance, while KenPom is at 61%.
Predictions: Bart Torvik picks the Wildcats to win in a nail-biter, 68-67, while KenPom is going with a 69-66 win. TeamRankings is going with a 69-65 victory, Kentucky!