No. 15 Ole Miss (13-0) at No. 8 Tennessee (12-1)
The Rebels are 1-0 (Central Florida) on the road this season, while Tennessee is 5-0 at home. Ole Miss is undefeated and winners of 13 straight, and the Vols have won seven in a row. Tennessee is scoring 87.4 ppg., and giving up 68.6. Ole Miss is producing 86.2 and allowing 69.4.
The two teams square off at 7 p.m. (CST) in Knoxville in the SEC opener for both schools. Tennessee leads the overall series 64-37, including a 36-10 advantage at home. The game will be televised by Raycom Sports and carried on the Ole Miss Radio Network as well as XM Radio. Read on for keys to the contest.
Follow the blueprint
The Volunteers were knocked off by nationally ranked Texas earlier this season in New Jersey 97-78 for their only loss. Texas spread the scoring around and converted from outside the arc early on. Ole Miss can't predict a 60-plus shooting percentage like the Longhorns accomplished but high percentage shots inside can break down the Tennessee defense and neutralize the Vols' strong guard play. Texas hit the glass and pulled down 13 offensive boards to Tennessee's five.
Figure out free throws
Andy Kennedy has worried that charity stripe woes would be Ole Miss' downfall and Wednesday offers a grand opportunity for that to be the case for the first time. The Rebels have hovered in the low-60s concerning free throw percentage but that effort may leave too many points unscored in Knoxville against the Vols. Tennessee struggles from the line as well with only 65 percent makes, so a hot night for the Rebels could push the game in their favor. A side note to the foul situation is that Chris Warren must avoid early trouble. The freshman has the tendency to pick up two early personals, but the Rebels' general can't be forced to sit against this talented team in such a hostile environment.
Bang the boards
Ole Miss has not been outrebounded all season and has dominated all opponents on the offensive end. Meanwhile, Tennessee's biggest weakness is defensive caroms. The Volunteers have secured just nine more offensive boards than opponents and struggled on the defensive end by allowing the competition to pull down nearly 40 more missed shots. In all, Tennessee is being outrebounded 503-471 on the season.
Ole Miss' lone road game was in Orlando versus Central Florida in front of a school-record crowd of 6,000. The Rebels may have been outnumbered, but they have seen nothing to prepare them for the 20,000 spectators clad in orange. It will be a rocking arena with two ranked teams facing off, and Ole Miss must keep its feet when UT uses the crowd to make a run at some point or multiple points of the game. The frontcourt with Dwayne Curtis and Kenny Williams has seen it all before, but Warren, Trevor Gaskins and even David Huertas to some degree must not let the moment and environment become issues. Kennedy will hammer this point home, however, only experience can help overcome it. Halftime will be an important break on Wednesday.
Don't let Lofton loose
The Vol sharpshooter can single-handedly take over any game, but Chris Lofton hasn't led Tennessee in scoring since Dec. 4, a span of five games. He will get some, but Ole Miss can't let Lofton catch fire and put up 30. Whether it is Huertas or Eniel Polynice on defense, keeping multiple sets of eyes on the all-American is paramount. Lofton is averaging just 14 points per, and the opinion is that he will bust out soon. The Rebels can't afford for it to be now. Also, fouling his isn't an option, since he is a precise 85 percent from the line.
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