Battle of the Boards

One thing is clear as Ole Miss welcomes Dayton for the final non-conference game of the 2013-14 season.

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The Rebels have a rebounding problem.

They've been outrebounded in four straight games. Their struggles were never more evident than at home in their 72-63 win over Middle Tennessee State in mid-December, the first of the four-game rebounding skid. The Blue Raiders dominated the glass, totaling a whopping 48 rebounds to only 27 for Ole Miss.

"We've got a huge issue, and that's obvious to everyone who watches us," head coach Andy Kennedy said.

Ole Miss is 9-3 on the year. In each of the Rebels' three losses - Mercer, Oregon and at Kansas State - they lost the battle of the glass. Opponents, on average, are grabbing around three more boards (40.8 to 37.9) each game.

Ole Miss is currently tied with Fordham, Manhattan, UMBC and St. John's for 95th in the country in rebounds per game. The Rebels are sixth in the SEC.

"We're just searching for answers," Kennedy said. "It's the first time in my nine-year coaching career that a team that I've led has been outrebounded four consecutive games.

Andy Kennedy
USA TODAY images

"It's really maddening for me. We've talked about it, we've drilled it, we've done everything short of challenging their manhood in order to find a way to get in there and rebound the ball with the efficiency that this team is going to need to give us a chance to be successful. We're just trying to find answers. We're still searching."

His search has led to true freshman forward/center Sebastian Saiz. Saiz earned his first start at Western Kentucky on Monday. He responded with 11 points and seven rebounds.

Saiz is Ole Miss' most efficient rebounder. He's averaging some six rebounds in 19.3 minutes per game. By contrast, junior forward Aaron Jones leads the team in minutes with 28, but he's getting just under seven rebounds each game out. Demarco Cox has accounted for around six rebounds in roughly 25 minutes, which Kennedy said isn't enough.

"Sebas is the best on our team at rebounds per minute," Kennedy said. "We're just trying to get him some experience. He's a true freshman that's learning each and every day.

"Dwight Coleby is now back healthy enough to help us. I think once he gets back and conditioned and understands what we're trying to do offensively a little bit better, I'll be able to play him more. Maybe between the four, we'll find a way to hold our own on the boards."

Ole Miss will try to get right against a Dayton team that leads the Atlantic 10 in rebounding defense, allowing opponents to grab just 30.0 per game. Dayton (11-3) is 10-2 this season when outrebounding its opponents.

Dayton also leads the A-10 in rebounding margin.

"Typically, as a coach, I try to avoid very difficult matchups the game leading into the Christmas break and the game coming out of the Christmas break. But this year I didn't do a very good job of that," Kennedy said. "Two very difficult opponents. Going into Western after the break, walking into that environment, I knew how passionate their fan base was. They had a sellout crowd - the biggest crowd they've had since renovations of their arena, which happened in 2003, against a non-league opponent. So they were excited about it, and they came out and played that way.

"Our guys showed a lot of fortitude in fighting back. Western's first home loss of the season, and it was a good win for our group. We have another challenge in Dayton, a team that beat Gonzaga, beat California in the Maui Invitational and beat Georgia Tech on the road. A talented team, a team that's a top-50 RPI opportunity, and one we need to seize."

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