Basketball Scouting Report: Ole Miss

Vanderbilt's late-season run has certainly put the NIT into play. A team playing well doesn't want its season to end any sooner than it has to, and it wants to be able to test itself against quality competition. It also wouldn't hurt to give James Siakam another home game or two. The push to the NIT is real, and a win over Ole Miss would strengthen -- maybe even seal -- Vanderbilt's argument.


As many Vanderbilt fans will readily agree, the best part of this wonderful late-season surge by the Commodores is that they’re not just thumping opponents without being tested. It’s exactly the opposite. VU is getting jabbed and thrown off balance early in games, but coach Kevin Stallings and his players have been able to respond.

Bad starts? Prolonged sequences in which the other team shoots well? Scoring ruts? The Dores deal with these stretches of adversity in just about every game (Missouri being an exception), and there comes a point midway through a game when it is not only easy but logical to think, “Well, it’s just not happening for these guys. Prepare to expect the worst.”

Yet, the worst doesn’t happen. This team prevents the worst from happening. The biggest key is that the effort at the defensive end remains the same. It is no different from any other sport: Your opponent might be on a hot streak, but if you keep doing things the right way, the laws of averages generally kick in. Regression to the mean occurs. Percentages even out… as long as you continue to fight and make your opponent work for everything he gets. Vanderbilt is doing this – it’s one of the central tenets of learning how to be a successful competitor.

It’s not just attitude, of course: Stallings’s X-and-O acumen is his best attribute, and it has emerged in the adjustments he’s made in second halves over the past month. The table is set – not just for next season (which the VU community is really excited about), but for a possible march to the NIT and what would be a few helpful proving-ground moments against non-SEC competition. That would really benefit this team heading into the non-conference portion of the coming season. This team can use exposure to different styles and teams before this season’s through. Getting a win at Ole Miss would represent a major – and perhaps decisive – step toward an NIT ticket and at least one more home game at Memorial Gym.

OLE MISS AT-A-GLANCE

The Rebels are back-end NCAA tournament team, sitting around the No. 10 seed line at this point. You can reasonably call that a bubble team, but you could also say the Rebels are safely in the field, given that a 10 seed is a few notches higher than those in the “last four in / first four out” cluster, which sits squarely on top of the bubble, not leaning to either side of it.

The Rebels’ salvation in terms of their NCAA profile, narrowly viewed, is their road win at Arkansas. Without that result, Ole Miss would be right on the cut line at the moment and would probably have needed to win two games at the SEC tournament to have a realistic shot at making the field. Beating Arkansas is an eye-grabbing win within the context of the SEC season. Coming very close at Kentucky is something the Selection Committee will probably notice as well.

On a larger level, the Rebels have moved ahead of Texas A&M and LSU in the bubble pecking order because they’ve been such a good road-neutral team. Their bad losses (Charleston Southern, TCU) came at home. They won at Oregon and on a neutral floor against Cincinnati. Those results also saved this team from an NIT fate. Even if Ole Miss loses this game against Vanderbilt, the Rebels should be able to stay in the field of 68 as long as they avoid a loss in their first SEC tournament game. Andy Kennedy is about to make his second NCAA tournament as the coach in Oxford.

Starting Lineup

Forward – M.J. Rhett –
Senior, 6-9, 240; 2014-15: 6.7 points per game, 4.8 rebounds per game

If you’ve watched Ole Miss over the years under Andy Kennedy, you would recognize this team. The Rebels get most of their scoring production from their perimeter and wing players, and they primarily count on their frontcourt for rebounding and blue-collar defense. Rhett doesn’t need to fill up the stat sheet; he has to be a forceful, disciplined defensive presence on the low blocks.

Forward – Sebastian Saiz – Sophomore, 6-9, 233; 2014-15: 7.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg

As much as Ole Miss does in fact lean on its guards for production, the look of this team will change next season, with a number of backcourt veterans departing. Saiz is the frontcourt player who will need to develop in 2016 for this program to remain an NCAA program and not slip back to the NIT. Vanderbilt should be optimistic about its matchups against the Rebels in the painted area.

Guard – Stefan Moody – Junior, 5-10, 179; 2014-15: 16.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.1 apg

There’s more than a little Marshall Henderson in Moody – minus the off-putting antics and the off-court sideshows that always followed Henderson (who is now playing basketball in Iraq, of all places). Moody never met a shot he didn’t like – that’s a very Hendersonian tendency to have. Moody can also hit many of the shots he takes. He can get on crazy streaks where you think, upon the release of the shot, that every 28-footer is touching the bottom of the net. Moody also knows how to draw fouls, much as Henderson did. He went 13-of-14 from the foul line in Ole Miss’s most recent game at Alabama earlier this week. VU has to close down his shooting hand early in the game and force other Rebels to win this contest.

Guard – Jarvis Summers – Senior, 6-3, 186; 2014-15: 11.8 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 4.6 apg

While Moody is a scoring guard, Summers gives balance and shape to the Ole Miss backcourt by accepting the role of a facilitator. Summers could score a lot more – VU has seen him a lot over the years – but the senior chooses to share the ball. That has helped Ole Miss to be as good as it’s been this season.

Guard – Martavious Newby – Junior, 6-3, 210; 2014-15: 3.8 ppg, 5 rpg, 1.5 apg

Newby played only 16 minutes against Alabama. He is something of a placeholder for teammate and senior leader Ladarius White, who averages 10.9 points per game. White, combined with Moody and Summers, gives Ole Miss a familiar three-pronged scoring attack in the backcourt, a typical reality for a Kennedy-coached team in Oxford.

Bench

In addition to White coming off the bench and getting substantial minutes, Kennedy also uses center Dwight Coleby, forward Anthony Perez, and guards Aaron Jones and Terence Smith. Coleby averages 5.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. Perez averages 2.9 points per game. Jones averages 3.4 points per game, Smith 4.2 points per game. Smith can get hot at times from three-point range; VU will want to keep him in check.

Keys to the Game

1) Take the ball out of Moody’s hands.
It is often – though not always – this simple with Ole Miss: Don’t let Stefan Moody beat you. It’s true that Summers and White are capable scorers, but Moody can and does take over games. VU has to stand in his way.

2) Trust Jones and Siakam on offense. Ole Miss is not an imposing team in the frontcourt, and with James Siakam having played so well against Mississippi State, the senior should think that he can do well in his individual matchup on Saturday. Getting the ball to him and Damian Jones would seem to be the right approach for the Dores in the Tad Pad.

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