RPI Boosters Dead Ahead

NEW YORK - MARCH 30: Reginald Buckner #2 of Ole Miss hits Chris Johnson #4 of the Dayton Flyers in the face during their semi final at Madison Square Garden on March 30, 2010 in New York, New York. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Don't look now, but the next four games that the Rebels play on the hardwood could go a long way in determining whether this team has a fighter's chance at an NCAA tournament berth. Tomorrow night, the Rebels host Murray State. After that, they play Dayton at home, Penn State at home, and Miami away. While none of those are big names in traditional basketball circles, there are promising things about each that could help the Rebels' RPI should they win the games. We will have (relatively) extensive game previews for each, but here's a brief synopsis of what each team looks like early in the season.

Murray_state_mediumMurray State Racers  - Ohio Valley Conference  - 31-5 (8-8)

What they did last year:
           Came within a basket of going to the Sweet Sixteen over Butler while sporting one of the best records in college basketball. 'Nuff said.
Prognosis for this year:
          31 wins last year is most likely an aberration. It's unlikely they will repeat that feat though they are still a solid team returning five guards from last year's team. It is likely that the Racers will contend for the Ohio Valley Conference title and amass enough wins to be a top 100 RPI team. They lose impact forward Danero Thomas who averaged more than 10 points per game and 4 rebounds per game. B.J. Jenkins, Donte Poole and Jewaun Long return to lead another possible NCAA bid.
The game:
           With the game being mid-week in Oxford in November, there has to be some kind of advantage to Ole Miss. It's early in the season for a road trip, and this will be a tough test for both teams. When you look at Murray State's schedule last year, their few losses came on the road to decent teams (Western Kentucky, Cal, Louisiana Tech and Morehead State). The Rebels should be able to replicate that this year.

Dayton_mediumThe Dayton Flyers - Atlantic Ten Conference  - 24-12 (8-8)

What they did last year:
Last season, the Rebels fell to the Flyers (who had been ranked earlier in the year) in the NIT semi-finals and watched as Dayton won the NIT championship. In last year’s matchup with Ole Miss, Dayton forward Chris Johnson scored 22 points and was a phenomenal difference-maker that we couldn’t stop. Dayton slowed us down on offense and held us to only 63 points.
Prognosis for this year:
            This year, Chris Johnson returns, but he’s only one of two returning starters. Dayton is receiving top 25 votes, and they are major contenders in the Atlantic Ten. 6’10" center Devin Searcy will be a tough matchup inside, as he had a 15/12 line in the Flyers’ first game against Mount Saint Mary’s on Monday. Like last year, they sport a swarming defense that tries to take advantages of opponent miscues.
The game:
A possible weakness that the Rebels should try to exploit is true freshman starting point guard Juwan Staten. He played wonderfully in his first game, garnering eight assists, but we can hope that was a fluke. For the Rebels to win, we’ll have to contain Johnson and Searcy. The rest of the team is good, but without an inside presence, they should be manageable.

Pennstate_mediumPenn State Nittany Lions  - Big Televen Conference  - 11-20 (3-15)
 

What they did last year:
           Lost a lot of very close basketball games. Combine the margin of loss to the following teams: Tulane, Temple, Va Tech, Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota again, Michigan State and Purdue; You get 39 points. 11 losses and 39 points in total margin. Not a completely terrible team as their record suggests. /statisticsarefornerds
Prognosis for this year:
          The big get here for Ole Miss is with strength of schedule. The Nittany Lions play top ten foes like Michigan State and Ohio State in conference play. Then toss in Purdue, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and a couple improving teams in Northwestern and Indiana, and Penn State has quite the barrage of teams to endure. Even if PSU can only muster a .500 record, it will put them around the 100 mark in RPI. PSU returns a great guard in Talor Battle who could go off for 20 or more on any given night.
The game:
          Ole Miss should not lose this game. This is a lower third opponent from the Big Ten, and it's in Oxford the night before the Egg Bowl. No reason not to buy a ticket and get loud for this game. If Ole Miss is undefeated at this point, it will have weathered some good opposition and will be keyed in for a win over Penn State. A great defensive effort from one of our guards to keep Battle in check should be enough for the Rebels to get a win here.

Miami_mediumThe Miami Hurricanes - Atlantic Coast Conference - 20-13 (6-13)

What they did last year:
            After a deceptively impressive early season - with out-of-conference opponents in Minnesota and South Carolina - which saw the 'Canes jump to a 15-1 record, ACC play wore down Miami until they finished last in the conference. This, however, didn't impact Frank Haith's squad's mindset heading into the ACC tournament though, where Miami took down 5th place Wake Forest and 4th place Virginia Tech (essentially knocking the Hokies out of the NCAA tournament) before losing by four to eventual national champions Duke.
Prognosis for this year:
           Miami played a lot of freshmen and sophomores last year and coach Haith hopes that translates into more wins for the 'Canes this season. The ACC, though, is as tough as one would expect with Duke and North Carolina looking to rule the conference once again. 6'1" junior guard Malcolm Grant looks to lead his team in points once more as he led with 20.5 a game last season.
The game:
           It's on Tuesday, November 30 and it's at Miami. Both teams should, at this point, have a clear idea of what they're capable of on the hardwood with Ole Miss having played their toughest out-of-conference matchups and Miami settling in for a long home stretch after away trips to Memphis (that happened today and they lost) and Rutgers. You've gotta think the mid-week trip for the Rebels gives the up-and-coming Canes something to look to as an advantage, especially when considering the two teams' similar styles of play. It should be close, and it should be difficult for the Rebs to leave Coral Gables with the "W", but it's hardly improbable.

 

Conclusion

What we're trying to say is that generally Ole Miss' first few basketball games honestly don't matter. This year, that's not the case. We need to come out of this stretch at least 2-2 to have much of a chance at the tourney. We follow this series with a significant game against Southern Miss and then essentially nothingness until conference play. I believe that Kennedy scheduled it this way to avoid having major games during Christmas holidays. Students and fans need to respond by attending the nest three games. In basketball, you have to build your RPI to get post-season consideration. Our chance to do that is now.

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