Second Basketball Scouting Report: Ole Miss

One gets the sense that the Vanderbilt Commodores are exhausted more than anything else. A team that has competed so well this season continued to fight hard on Thursday night against LSU. However, the well ran dry for a team that has admirably not made excuses or complained about its fate. With the SEC Tournament looming, Saturday's game at Ole Miss needs to achieve goals other than winning.


The Vanderbilt Commodores are worn out. You can see it, you can feel it. This is not only understandable. It was and is well-nigh unavoidable. It was going to happen at some point. Refilling the tank for the upcoming SEC Tournament should acquire more centrality in the mind of Kevin Stallings. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt will bid a very happy goodbye to Marshall Henderson, who plays his last home game for Ole Miss on Saturday afternoon.

OLE MISS AT-A-GLANCE

The Ole Miss Rebels had everything going their way a month ago.

After a win over Missouri on Feb. 8, coach Andy Kennedy's team – in a mediocre (at best) conference – had the best chance of any non-Florida, non-Kentucky squad to make the field of 68.

Then, however, everything fell apart.

Long story short, the Rebels' offense bogged down in road losses to Alabama and Georgia. Then, the Rebels' defense was eviscerated in two home games against Kentucky and Florida. Just like that, a team on the good side of the bubble tumbled completely out of the bubble mix. The Rebels have lost six of seven, and they're now reduced to fighting for an NIT slot that's anything but certain. Ole Miss's collapse has been so spectacular that the Rebels are probably on the bad side of the NIT bubble and need some wins to change their outlook. The only way Marshall Henderson will return to the NCAA tournament is if he can help Ole Miss defend its SEC Tournament championship.

Starting Lineup

Forward – Sebastian Saiz –
Freshman, 6-9, 233; 2013-14: 5 points per game, 5.7 rebounds per game

Saiz has replaced Aaron Jones in the Rebels' starting lineup, relative to the last time these teams played (Jan. 22), though Ole Miss likes to rotate its forwards in and out of the lineup, evenly distributing their minutes. Jones still averages nearly eight more minutes than Saiz, making the individual presence of a particular Ole Miss forward a little less important than the collective group's combined contributions. Jones averages 6.8 rebounds per game, the best mark on the team. The larger story about the Rebels' frontcourt is simply that it has not done the job, thereby wasting the gifts of two marvelously skilled players, Jarvis Summers and Marshall Henderson.

Forward – Anthony Perez – Sophomore, 6-9, 213; 2013-14: 7.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg

Perez is this team's leading frontcourt scorer. The fact that his scoring average is below 8 points per game tells you how conspicuously limited this team has become in the paint. Defenses are able to extend pressure, focusing on Summers and Henderson while knowing that they won't pay a price as a result. With Henderson out of the mix next season, the Rebels will have to cultivate a formidable low-post presence. Perez, who will be a junior next season, needs to become that man in the middle for Ole Miss.

Guard – Martavious Newby – Junior, 6-6, 211; 2013-14: 3 ppg, 2.9 rpg

Newby has replaced LaDarius White in the Ole Miss starting five, though White averages nearly eight more minutes per game. White averages 7.5 points per game, which is more than Newby's noticeably small statistical footprint. When you look at this roster's cumulative statistics, it becomes all the more apparent that only two players are carrying the load, and those two players are the ones we'll focus on next:

Guard – Jarvis Summers – Junior, 6-3, 186; 2013-14: 17 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 3.8 apg

You could make a case that this is Ole Miss's best player, not that other guy who incites opposing fans and wears his heart on his sleeve. Summers provides the ballhandling steadiness, floor leadership, and quickness off the dribble that enable him to influence a game without scoring. Yet, of course, he does score in fairly copious quantities. What makes Ole Miss dangerous on any given gamenight is not necessarily the fact that Summers and Marshall Henderson both score well; it's that they score in different kinds of ways, forcing a defense to account for each inch of the 1,500 square feet (the 30 feet from perimeter to baseline, multiplied by the 50 feet from one sideline to the other) that are generally occupied by a halfcourt set.

Guard – Marshall Henderson – Senior, 6-2, 177; 2013-14: 19 ppg, 2.1 apg, 1.5 steals per game

What was said about Henderson in the first Ole Miss scouting report still holds true today:

"Henderson is a complicated player to analyze. Yes, he takes a lot of bad shots, but he is a volume shooter who can get on very hot streaks, and when he sizzles, he makes Ole Miss a very hard team to beat. Shooters are supposed to keep shooting even when shots don't fall. No, they shouldn't just chuck every 25-footer they get without a second thought, but they must still look for their offense, and Henderson does this. He puts great strain on defenses by running and running and running around screens to get open for threes. He has shown an ability to pass out of double-teams, setting up teammates for good scoring chances. He's not a consistent defender, but he's an active one with quick hands. All in all, there are plenty of things Henderson does poorly, or at the very least, not as consistently as he could. Yet, Henderson is skilled enough to make Ole Miss a far more potent and threatening team at the offensive end of the floor. His emergence as a player enabled the Rebels to make the NCAAs last season and then take down a respected Wisconsin squad. He's not a great player, but he's a very good player, no matter what else you might think of his manners or antics."

Is Henderson likely to make it in the NBA? No, he's not. However, should he be remembered as a very good college player – nothing more or less? Certainly. Let's acknowledge this as well: As irritating as he might be, and for all the times in which officials have failed to give him technical fouls that he has most certainly deserved, this point remains true: Ole Miss is going to be easier to defend next year without Henderson on the floor. This fact also remains true: Before Henderson, Andy Kennedy's coaching career was stuck in neutral, and the Rebels didn't have an NCAA tournament appearance during Kennedy's stay in Oxford.

For all the weaknesses in Henderson's game, the bottom line is as follows: The rest of the SEC will be glad to see Henderson leave, and not just for his lack of good manners. This was and is a productive collegiate basketball player who made his team, his program, better. Don't ever take that away from him, because he's earned the right to be seen as such a figure in the sport's (and the SEC's) history.

Bench

This team has plummeted in part because Demarco Cox has fallen off the map. A suspension handed out in late February to guard Derrick Millinghaus has shortened the Rebels' bench even more. As noted above, Ole Miss's rotating forwards – which form the core of this team's bench – are not producing enough to change the way opposing defenses handle the Rebels.

Keys to the Game

1) Slow the pace.
Before the SEC tournament, Vanderbilt should be interested in playing a low-stress game that attempts to save the legs of its foremost performers. Making a run next week matters more than spilling the tank in this game for a tired and mentally taxed group of overworked players. Vanderbilt should be extremely selective in terms of exploring transition opportunities. Throwing in a little zone or perhaps a triangle-and-two on Summers and Henderson could also save this team's legs a little bit.

2) Re-distribute game minutes, giving Rod Odom a lighter workload. The SEC Tournament should become the focus for this team and coaching staff. Setting itself up to play well next week means more than one win in isolation. To this end, Kevin Stallings should not have Rod Odom and Dai-Jon Parker play anything more than 30 minutes, and ideally no more than 25. Giving 20-25 minutes to Luke Kornet, Shelby Moats, and Carter Josephs would seem to be a sensible thing to do for all the obvious reasons. In postseason play, the bench generally gets shortened. This game is a time to allow the reserves to accumulate minutes, with an eye toward next season as well.

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