Last Saturday Vanderbilt, trailing 28-22 to the LSU Tigers at halftime, came out strong in the second half and cruised to a 74-54 victory. Matt Freije climbed into a tie for second place with Ronnie McMahan among Vanderbilt's all-time scorers, and needs only six more to pass Phil Cox and take over first. David Przybyszewski, since being moved into the starting lineup by Coach Kevin Stallings, is proving to be the consistent scoring threat Vanderbilt has needed to take pressure off of Freije. He fired in 21 points, including all five of his 3-point attempts. The Tigers were badly undermanned with two starters out with injuries, including their leading scorer and rebounder, Jaime Lloreda.
The Ole Miss Rebels lost to Florida 81-66 Saturday, and are now 4-8 in conference play. Before the Florida loss, they had won four consecutive home games, over LSU (53-49), Alabama (71-60), South Carolina (79-68), and Auburn (72-68). Their other losses in SEC play are to Mississippi State (61-54 and 80-56), Auburn (80-53), Arkansas (85-78), Kentucky (71-61), Georgia (64-51), and Tennessee (83-66). Rod Barnes' Rebels played a weak non-conference slate, with their best wins coming over East Carolina (65-49) and Centenary (72-60).
Ole Miss is near the bottom in most categories. They are 12th (last) in scoring margin, blocked shots, free-throw shooting, and rebounding margin, and 11th in assist/turnover ratio. They are seventh in field goal shooting and ninth in field goal defense. Their best category is steals (fifth).
The Rebels are led by 6-8 senior Justin Reed, who is scoring 18.6 ppg and collecting 7.7 rebounds. He is a powerful and active 240-pounder who may make the all-conference first team. Almost all of his scoring comes on the inside, and he gets to the free throw line often, making 72% of his attempts from there.
6-7 senior Aaron Harper (right, AP photo by Dave Martin) is a dangerous scoring threat from a wing position. He scores 16.2 ppg, makes 39% of his threes, and is the second-leading rebounder at 4.9 per game. Harper also leads the team in assists (3.2 per game). Like Reed, he is a returning starter who has seen a lot of action for the Rebels in the past.
After that, no one else has been able to score consistently. 6-7 junior Kendrick Fox, who may start at the other wing or at the high post, scores 6.0 ppg and makes 40.7% of his threes. 6-7 junior Tommie Eddie (5.4 ppg), a 260-pounder, sometimes starts down low, and grabs 3.3 rebounds per game.
6-2 freshman Todd Abernathy, son of Tom Abernathy (a starter on Indiana's unbeaten team of 1975-76), plays about 27 minutes per game at the point. He hits an occasional 3-pointer, scores 5.7 ppg, and has an excellent assist/turnover ratio (3.0 to 1.1). 6-0 junior Justin Johnson (5.7 ppg) has started 18 games at the off-guard.
In his attempt to find an effective combination, Coach Rod Barnes has used a lot of men, including 5-9 walk-on junior Calvadas Nunnery (1.3 ppg), who plays about 14 minutes per game. 6-7 junior Chris Rhodes has gotten into all the games but averages merely 0.4 ppg. Others who could play are 6-2 junior Ed Glass (1.8 ppg), 6-3 freshman Bam Doyne (1.3 ppg), 6-6 junior Marvin Moore (2.2 ppg), 6-8 sophomore Lonnie Jackson (0.4 ppg), and 6-7 freshman Jarvelle Scott (0.5 ppg). Eddie, Jackson, Glass, and Moore are all transfers from the JUCO ranks.
The Commodores have lost their last eight games at Mississippi's Tad Smith Coliseum. Even though Ole Miss has one of the poorer records among conference teams, the Rebels play tough defense, keeping their opponents off stride by physical tactics. However, on the basis of much greater experience and size, and the recent breaking of the SEC road jinx (at Tuscaloosa last Wednesday), I'm picking Vanderbilt to break another jinx and win by 4-7 points.