Wednesday, February 17, 2010

VSL Gets You Ready: Vanderbilt Travels to Ole Miss

While everyone in VSLNation is looking ahead to Vanderbilt's match-up with #2 Kentucky at Memorial on Saturday, it's possible that the Commodores trip to Oxford is the more important of the two games this week. I told Stanimal as much earlier this week, but now I'm not convinced. While I'm sure the analysts will make a big deal if Vanderbilt loses on the road, I still think beating the Wildcats will force the commentators to accept that the Commodores are a legitimately good team. Regardless, Vanderbilt plays Ole Miss, and getting another road win would certainly bolster Vanderbilt's already solid resume. So, without further ado, let's look at the Rebels.

Who are the Rebels?

First off, they are a team solidly on the bubble. At 17-7 overall and 5-5 in conference, Andy Kennedy's squad is pretty good. Joe Lunardi has Ole Miss as one of the "last four out," while ESPN's Bubble Watch opines that the Rebs need to beat both Vanderbilt and Florida at home to keep their tournament hopes alive. One game back of Mississippi State and Arkansas in the SEC West (although MSU is 2-0 and Arkansas is 1-0 against the Rebs), Ole Miss is very much in the thick of the SEC West race (tallest midget in the circus, anyone?). Still, they've lost 3 of their last 4 games and have been one of the most disappointing teams in the conference thus far.

Ole Miss is deep. In conference play, they've got 9 guys playing 12+ minutes. The key to the Rebs offense is 5'10 guard Chris Warren. The diminutive junior is averaging 15.3 points a game (a slight drop from his 16.3 season average). He's shooting slightly better from behind the arc (40.6%) than inside the arc (38.7%), and is an 81.3% free throw shooter. He is a good scorer, but hopefully the bigger Jermaine Beal can contain him.

The rest of Ole Miss' offensive punch comes from a pair of 6'5 guards, Eniel Polynice and Terrico White. Both players are averaging just over 11 points and around 5 rebounds in about 31 minutes of action in conference play. Both these guys are capable of having big games and Vanderbilt will have to make sure that they contain at least one of them.

The rest of the starting line-up for Ole Miss is unclear. 8 different players have started conference games, and who Andy Kennedy will put out on the floor is not entirely clear. It seems likely that 6'7 sophomore Murphy Holloway will be one of the five players starting for the Rebs. He's averaging 23 points a game and has started 8 conference games, including the last 3. Holloway is netting 7 points and 6.5 boards a game. He's only reached double figures twice in conference play, but did score 19 against Arkansas. 6'9 senior DeAundre Cranston has started 7 conference games, including 4 of the last 5, however he did not start against Mississippi State and is only averaging 15 minutes a game.

6'6 forward Zach Graham, along with 6'9 forward Terrance Henry started against Mississippi State, while White came in off the bench. Graham is playing 23 minutes a game and adding 7.7 points, while Henry has been good for 7.8 points in 18 minutes.

Finally, the Commodores are also likely to see guard guard Trevor Gaskins and forward Reginald Buckner. both averaging around 5 points. Buckner, a 6'9 freshman, Buckner, has missed Ole Miss' past four games because of a sprained ankle he suffered at the end of the Rebels' 84-74 victory over Auburn on Jan. 28. The Jackson Clarion-Ledger's David Brandt expects him to return. Sinec his injury, the Rebs have gone 1-3.

The disjointedness of this section should highlight both of deep and unsettled the Rebs are. The various line-ups Ole Miss has used in conference play does not indicate much "stability." Clearly, Kennedy has 3 guys he relies on, after them, it's not entirely clear.

Stats To Watch For

In Ole Miss' 5 wins, opponents are shooting 39.5%, while that number climbs to 44.5% in the Rebs' 5 losses. When you remove Alabama's 50% shooting from the floor in their loss, Rebs' opponents are shooting just over 36% from the floor. Conversely, Ole Miss has never won a conference game where they have shot worse than 41% from the floor.

Another key statistic is free throw attempts. Vanderbilt has done a great job getting to the line as of late (see Jeff Lockridge's piece in the Tennessean) and Ole Miss has attempted 72 fewer free throws a game than their opponents in SEC play. Ole Miss has only attempted more free throws then their opponents in 2 games, both of which they won.

Ole Miss is 13-1 this season when the out-rebound their opponents, as compared to 4-6 when they do not. Vanderbilt needs to rebound like they did against Tennessee and South Carolina on the road rather than at Georiga, however, given Andre Walker's questionable status, this could be a tall order.

What Vanderbilt Needs to Do

First things first, the Commodores cannot look past the Rebels. There is a buzz on campus about Kentucky coming to town Saturday. With the quick turnaround on a Thursday evening game before a Saturday late afternoon contest with such huge implications, it wouldn't be surprising for Vanderbilt to be distracted (look at the performance at Georgia before the Tennessee game as evidence). Still, Vanderbilt cannot win if they are looking ahead.

Second, as highlighted above, Vanderbilt needs to focus on rebounding, taking good shots, and getting to the free throw line. They've been great about getting to the line as of late, and that is a great way to take the home crowd out of the game early. In Athens, Vanderbilt was out-rebounded by 15, shot just 32% from the floor, and attempted 6 fewer free throws. That happens Thursday , and we will lose.

Vanderbilt needs a 3rd scorer to step up on the road. Again, looking at the UGA game, Vanderbilt was able to get great production from 2 guys (Brad and Dolla), the rest of the team was non-existent. Compare that to Vanderbilt's wins at Tennessee and South Carolina, where the Commodores had a very balanced scoring attack to earn tough wins on the road.

Putting way Ole Miss is not an easy thing to do as evidenced by their 74-67 comeback win against Alabama in their last home game. The Rebs trailed the Tide by 23 points at the start of the second half, only to storm back in the second behind 18 point halves from Chris Warren and Terrance Henry.

Final Thoughts

This is a tough game for the Commodores. Winning on the road in conference is never easy, especially against a team as desperate as Ole MIss. Still, the Commodores are the better team and are trying to earn the respect of the college basketball watching world. A win is expected and a loss will be viewed as another sign that the Commodores are over-hyped. All that doesn't matter. Good teams have to win games when they are better, whether they play on the road, at home, or on a neutral court. In many respects, this game will be a good test to see the Commodores mettle headed into March.


Anonymous said...

Good preview. You should add a score at the end Bobby. I think it will be VU 78 - Ole Miss 71

Douglas James said...

I'm extremely nervous about this game. I have more confidence going into the UK game then into this one. We seem to play to the level of teams this year which scares me. This is the kind of game where AJ should dominate. Too bad he is pretty much terrible. His whole offensive game is to hope he gets fouled. I hope he proves me wrong but I have my doubts.

Chuck Heston said...

I like our chances if Andre and JJ return. Despite their respective ailments, they'll be anxious to get on the court and get to work. That may spark the team. I wait for the day that AJ dominates inside and scores in the mid to high 20's. And wait . . . and wait.

Vandy-Montana said...

Jeebus...don't feel good about it. I have no idea why.

Vandy loses by 5....

I hate typing that, and I hope I'm wrong...

J.B., M.D. said...

Anybody have updates on Walker or JJ and whether they'll be playing?

Stanimal said...

Jenkins is playing. Walker is currently questionable and will be a gametime decision.