The Mississippi Rebels were expected to be one of the three weakest teams in the conference (along with Georgia and Auburn), but their 11-9 record is better than expected. In non-conference play they had two good wins on the road, over Memphis (65-53) and Virginia Commonwealth (63-62). They are 2-5 in conference games, with a home victory over Georgia (59-54) and a road win over Auburn (79-72). In a home game, they gave the conference-leading Kentucky Wildcats a terrific scare before being edged out 53-50. They also have losses at Arkansas (69-46) and LSU (70-60), and were defeated at home by Mississippi State (87-76) and Alabama (66-58).
Head Coach Rod Barnes (right, AP Photo/Rogelio Solis), is in his seventh season as Mississippi mentor. His record is 124-85. He was SEC Coach of the Year in 2000-01 when he guided the Rebels to a 27-8 record, their best season ever. The following year Mississippi went 20-11, but a drop-off in recruiting has brought on a serious slide. Mississippi has a very good crop of prospects coming in next year and, if Barnes can hold on through this season, the situation should improve. He is a Mississippi graduate who started every game during his last three years on the team and gained all-SEC honors as a senior. He served as an assistant coach at Livingston College before returning to Ole Miss as an assistant under Rob Evans, whom he replaced when Evans departed for Arizona State.
Mississippi does not have a real star but 6-6 junior Londrick Nolen, a transfer from Southwest Tennessee, is the one player most responsible for the team's having had more success than expected. He is the leading scorer (12.5 ppg) and rebounder (average of 5.1), and has started all but one game at one of the wing positions. He can shoot the three (34.4%) but gets most of his points by driving to the basket. And, like all of the other Rebels, he plays defense.
The teams biggest player is 6-7 Tommie Eddie, a 260-pounder who is scoring 12.3 ppg and grabbing 12.3 rebounds. He starts, plays about 24 minutes per game, and takes up a lot of space underneath the basket.
6-7 senior Kendrick Fox moved into the starting lineup early in the season. He is the best outside shooter (41.9% on threes) and is scoring 7.0 ppg. His rebounding stats (2.6 per game) aren't eyecatching.
The starting guards are both seniors, 5-9 senior Cavadas Nunnery and 6-0 Justin Johnson. Both play about 20 minutes per game. Nunnery (3.9 ppg) tops the team in steals and pushes the ball up the court. Johnson (5.6 ppg) is making 35.9% of his threes.
Although he hasn't been starting, 6-1 sophomore Todd Abernethy plays the most minutes of any of the guards. He hasn't hit the threes as well as hoped (31.7%), but is scoring 8.4 ppg and leads the team in assists (2.8 per game), with an excellent assist/turnover ratio. He is the son of former Indiana star Tom Abernethy.
6-5 senior Marvin Moore (4.3 ppg) had a big night against Auburn (23 points and 12 rebounds). 6-4 sophomore Bam Doyne (3.9 ppg) is a defensive specialist. 6-6 freshman Brandon Patterson averages 17 minutes per game, scores 5.5 ppg, and is making 38.2% of his threes.
Barnes uses a lot of players, to keep the defensive pressure up on the opponent. In addition to the nine men previously mentioned, several more could see action against Vanderbilt. They are 6-2 senior Ed Glass (2.4 ppg), 6-9 freshman Jeremy Parnell (1.7 ppg), 6-7 senior Chris Rhodes (0.9 ppg), 6-8 junior Lonnie Jackson (1.9 ppg), and 5-11 freshman Brian Smith (1.5 ppg). Smith is the youngest son of Kentucky Head Coach Tubby Smith.
Barnes has always emphasized defense very heavily, and this year is no exception. On the offense, seldom does any one player dominate the statistics. However, Nolan and Eddie have been the most consistent scoring threats since conference play began. Rebounding is often a problem as shown by negative figures against Alabama (18-37), Kentucky (25-34), and Mississippi State (24-35). Even Georgia outrebounded the Rebels by 36-32.
This is a game that Vanderbilt should win. They seem to have the advantage in most categories, especially height and outside shooting, and they will be at home. However, another uninspired effort such as those in the Florida and Georgia games, could bring defeat. Look for the Commodores to bounce back into the win column by a margin of eight to fifteen points.
Kentucky guard Rajon Rondo (4) faces stiff a defense from Mississippi forwards Londrick Nolen (11) and Tommie Eddie (44) during the second half in Oxford, Miss., Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2005. No. 8 Kentucky defeated Mississippi, 53-50. (AP Photo/Rogelio Solis)