Make Your Move

Having dropped two-straight with Tennessee up next, Ole Miss stands ready for a run at postseason play. Read about it inside

Alas, the turning point for this season is upon us.

We shouldn't put too much emphasis on any particular game, but Wednesday's matchup with Tennessee is, shall we say, huge.

Of the Rebels next six games, four are at home. Win more than you lose, and we can start talking postseason. Anything less… well, you get the picture.

If ever a time to saddle up and push onward, it's now. The Volunteers ride into town on a two-game winning streak, having dominated Vanderbilt 69-50 in their most recent action.

They're 16-8 overall and 7-3 in conference play and remain in a three-way tie atop the SEC East standings with Kentucky and South Carolina.

"Every game is big," said Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy. "Tennessee's the biggest now, simply because they're they next one."

Despite being pegged in the preseason as possible front-runners for the SEC title, Tennessee has been up-and-down in 2009.

They've fallen against Temple, Gonzaga (twice) and Auburn, and haven't quite distanced themselves from their counterparts in the challenging SEC East.

But don't tell Andy Kennedy they're not one of the better teams in the conference.

"Fans' expectations might have been a little unrealistic," he said. "Bruce (Pearl) has spoken to that. Coming into the season, with what they had lost, initially people had put them as the front runner. They have a good basketball team. They're playing pretty good right now, with two straight wins and a dominating effort over Vanderbilt.

"They're hard to matchup with because they have so many weapons."

They certainly do.

Tennessee owns the second-highest scoring offense in the SEC at 79.7 ppg. Tyler Smith tops all scorers with 17.7 ppg, while Wayne Chism adds 13.0 and J.P. Prince pours in 10.0 of his own. Chism is the squad's top rebounder with 8.5 rpg.

They play fast and can stretch the floor with unparalleled athleticism. Claiming victory will be no easy task, but the Rebels have proven capable throughout their SEC schedule.

"Tennessee has a similar style of play as us," said Kennedy. "They're going to spread you and beat you in a number of ways. They have, maybe, one of the most versatile players in our league in Tyler Smith. They've got guys, one through three, who can spread you out to the wing. Wayne Chism will shoot threes. They have versatility on their wings.

"Obviously, they've lost some of their three-point power in Chris Lofton, one of the best to ever play in this league, and JaJuan Smith was an integral part of their success over two years. They're trying to replace those guys with freshmen, including a guy like Scotty Hopson who's tremendous. Cameron Tatum redshirted last year."

The Vols have been known to press under head coach Bruce Pearl, but this season has seen a shift in their reliance on that particular style of play.

UT plays sound zone defense, mixed with a relentless offensive attack triggered by turnovers.

Kennedy said the team remains focused on beating the press, as UT will challenge opponents when necessary.

"They're not pressing as much, but they still press in dead-ball situations," said Kennedy. "They're still famous in not allowing you to inbound the basketball under your own basket. They're not going to trick you a lot. They'll pressure you. We have to be able to handle that pressure."

As Ole Miss hits the home stretch, every game brings added importance.

While some might conclude no game is greater than others, this two-game homestand (key the broken record) is critical as the regular season draws closer to conclusion.

Suffice to say, beating the Volunteers could go a long way in improving the Rebels' postseason resume.

"We still think there are games on the table we can win," Kennedy explained. "We feel very comfortable as to what is in front of us. We know we got six games, and I certainly hope we can win our share."

Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. and will broadcast on Raycom Sports.

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