Scouting Report: Ole Miss
Marist in late November, meet Arkansas in the middle of January. Vanderbilt's men's basketball team pulled a porker – to use the obscure expression – against Woo Pig Sooey on Saturday night. For the second time this season, Vanderbilt scored 33 points in a 40-minute contest. The similarities between the two games are striking. No Vandy starter tallied more than five points, and no player scored more than eight. VU hit only two threes in each game and hit fewer than 15 field goal attempts all the while. Clearly, the Kentucky loss on Thursday shattered the confidence of this team. With another relatively quick turnaround on the schedule, it will be hard for the Commodores to make themselves whole against Ole Miss.
Forget Saturday's clunker in Fayetteville for a moment. The SEC has not done Vandy any favors with a shoddy bit of scheduling. If a team does play a Thursday night game followed by a quick travel game the following Saturday, that team should not have to play on a Tuesday the following week. Wednesday is the general weeknight of choice for SEC basketball games. If a team is made to play on a Thursday one week, it needs to be able to get an extra bit of rest the following week. Ultimately, this clash with Mississippi represents Vanderbilt's third game in a span of six nights. Note this, too: Before you want to make a cheap wisecrack about the notion that Vanderbilt really didn't play on Saturday, the Commodores – as was the case against Marist – busted their tails on defense, holding an opponent under 57 points, which should be much more than enough to win a college basketball game in a sport governed by a 35-second shot clock. This team is working hard, but the well is oh-so-dry at the offensive end of the floor. The well is also dry in the hearts of players who, while striving and straining, simply aren't shooting the ball with confidence. When players don't shoot with confidence, any basketball team has no other place to turn.
OLE MISS AT-A-GLANCE
The backdrop to this particular Vanderbilt-Ole Miss basketball game is not what many pundits expected before this season began. Vanderbilt's struggles aren't too surprising (though the pair of 33-point clunkers certainly is), but the notion that Mississippi could be an NCAA tournament team represents a severe shock to the system, a curveball to the brain. Andy Kennedy has been Ole Miss's head coach since 2006, going 0-for-6 in his attempt to make the Big Dance. The NIT semifinals have stood as Kennedy's highest achievement to date, which means that his tenure in Oxford has not been very successful. Programs that cared more about basketball would have fired Kennedy by now, but at Ole Miss, Kennedy has been allowed to toil in relative obscurity… and mediocrity.
Ole Miss hoops left a mark on the nation under former coaches Rob Evans and Rob Barnes. It was Barnes who guided the team to a Sweet 16 appearance in 2001. Kennedy has not been able to maintain that level of performance with the Rebels, but just when it seemed that this coaching career had reached a dead end, Ole Miss just might be able to put on its Dancing shoes.
The Rebels have been brilliant in two SEC games, winning by 18 at Tennessee (imagine Vanderbilt being able to do that sometime…) and then thumping Missouri by 15, holding the Tigers under 50 points. If the season ended today, Ole Miss – with only two losses on its slate – would probably rate higher than Kentucky, enough to snag an NCAA tourney ticket. Yes, there are two months left to go for the Rebels, who have been known to take NCAA-quality resumes and turn them into NIT portfolios come Selection Sunday. However, given the power vacuum in the SEC this season, Mississippi might have met its moment. The Rebels won't have a better chance to win in Memorial Gym in quite some time. Everything's lining up for them, to be sure.
OLE MISS STAT PACK – STATISTICAL HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS
Rebounds per game: 37.4. National rank: 21.
Turnovers per game: 12. National rank: 59.
Three-point field goal shooting percentage: 31.7. National rank: 243.
Points allowed per possession: 0.828. National rank: 8.
Three-point field goal percentage defense: 26 percent. National rank: 3.
Forward – Murphy Holloway – Senior, 6-7, 240 2012-13: 16.1 points per game, 10.8 rebounds per game, 1.8 steals per game
Holloway has taken his blue-collar identity and made it even better, more consistent, and more robust than in the past. Holloway is a tireless worker and grinder, a relentless rebounder whose nose for the ball and instincts near the rim make him a very effective player. Holloway, though perhaps slightly undersized at 6-7, uses his muscular 240-pound frame to hit the glass and establish position against opponents in the paint. His 56.3-percent field goal shooting rate tells you that Holloway eats a diet rich in layups and easy putbacks. Vanderbilt has to keep him off the backboard as much as possible, because Holloway is the main provider of easy buckets for the Rebels.
Forward – Reginald Buckner – Senior, 6-9, 235; 2012-13: 10.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.1 blocks per game
Buckner is a great helper for Holloway in Ole Miss's frontcourt. He's just as powerful as Holloway but blessed with more length. He is therefore able to be a disruptive shot-altering presence in the low post. As long as he is rebounding and playing top-flight defense, he doesn't have to fill up the scoring column in order to make a major contribution to the cause for Mississippi.
Guard – Marshall Henderson – Junior, 6-2, 175; 2012-13: 18.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.7 assists per game
Henderson is a difference maker for Ole Miss. He transferred from Utah to Texas Tech for the 2010-2011 season and then transferred to Oxford, sitting out the 2011-2012 campaign and then joining the Rebels this past fall. Henderson is a volume shooter with an aggressive scorer's mentality. He's not a pure shooter, but what he lacks in touch is made up for with his persistence. Henderson will need to get 18.6 points on fewer shots in the future; 14 shots are a bit much for that level of point production. Nevertheless, Ole Miss hasn't had a big-time perimeter scorer to supplement the Holloway-Buckner tandem. Henderson's emergence has obviously changed the equation in a good way for Kennedy and his coaching staff.
Guard – Jarvis Summers – Sophomore, 6-3, 184; 2012-13: 8 ppg, 3.5 apg
Summers is another returning starter from last season. As long as he continues to post a 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, he'll remain a stabilizing presence on the court and a cohesive element in Ole Miss's halfcourt sets. Summers is a tablesetter at the point guard position and does not feel the need to have to shoot any more than necessary. This selflessness has enabled Mississippi to be a better and more efficient ballclub.
Guard – LaDarius White – Sophomore, 6-6, 210; 2012-13: 3.7 ppg, 2.2 rpg
White can't shoot very well – he hits 25.9 percent of his threes – but he makes up for that lack of touch with lockdown defense. As a big guard, White can smother opposing guards with his reach and quick feet. He's a big reason why Ole Miss limited Missouri to 49 points this past weekend, and he's also a key reason why Ole Miss does not allow opponents to shoot threes at a high level. Vanderbilt needs to work around White when the Commodores have the ball.
Kennedy goes with an eight-man rotation, meaning that three reserves take to the court on a regular basis: Veteran guard Nick Williams (who gets starter-level minutes) and two underclassmen, forward Aaron Jones and guard Derrick Millinghaus. Williams averages just over 10 points per game, while Jones averages 3.9 boards per contest and Millinghaus chips in 7.3 points per game.
Keys to the Game
1) Shoot with confidence – get an early layup or two and then visualize the ball going through the hoop. Shooting with confidence is and can be elusive. Vanderbilt has to spend the first few minutes of this game attacking the basket so that it can improve its mindset and flush out the negativity that pervades the Commodore roster. Fragile 20-year-old men have to create a new reality for themselves and each other. Without transformational moments forged by a few easy baskets before the under-16 television timeout in the first half, VU might not be able to gain a foothold against a very strong Ole Miss team that is quite capable of destroying the Dores' offense.
2) Make. Ole Miss. Shoot. This really isn't much different from the Kentucky game key, but it's necessary to be mentioned as a foremost point of emphasis. Ole Miss loves to go to war on the glass. Vanderbilt has to subdue the Rebels near the tin and make the visitors from Oxford hit perimeter shots in order to win. This was the formula that almost worked against Kentucky; it can work against Mississippi if the Dores are dedicated enough at the defensive end of the floor.
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