|Ole Miss O||UK D||UK O||Ole Miss D|
|eFG%||48.1% (6)||44.3% (2)||51.2% (2)||45.1% (3)|
|TO%||16.2% (1)||15.3% (14)||21.1% (8)||20.3% (8)|
|OR%||32.9% (6)||31.8% (7)||36% (3)||29.6% (5)|
|FTR||46.9 (1)||23.8 (1)||38.1 (4)||32.7 (8)|
(Pressed for time today, so this will likely be a stream-of-consciousness preview. Apologies in advance.)
Two of the most hated figures in college basketball collide in Oxford tonight for what should be an incredible atmosphere. The White Out should look great on TV for those not fortunate enough to be there.
First off, let me say that the demise of the Wildcats has been overstated. No, they’re not as dominant as last season, but they’re not exactly a bottom feeder in the conference either. They still guard well – 44.3% defensive eFG%, 2nd best in conference. They still have an imposing front court. They still shoot the ball effectively. They have struggled to force turnovers, ranking last in the conference with just a 15.3% defensive TO%, but that’s only 1.1% lower than their number in conference play last year – 16.4% - and you’d be hard-pressed to convince anyone that team wasn’t solid defensively.
The ‘Cats may be on the outside of the Dance looking in at this point and winning this game would be a huge boost for their resume.
The strength-on-strength matchup to watch tonight is the number of Rebel free throw attempts. UK, for a 2nd year in a row, is the toughest team to get to the FT line against in conference. Meanwhile, the Rebels have gotten there with relative ease through 6 conference games. Converting over the last 2 games has been a different story and could certainly play a huge factor tonight.
Kentucky comes in 2-1 on the road in conference, with a controversial 2-point win at Vandy that Bobby Knight still hasn’t figured out and a 22-point pasting of Auburn 10 days ago. They dropped a 4-point game in Tuscaloosa last Tuesday. This will likely be the most hostile environment they’ve played in since a trip to Louisville back in December. For all its faults – and they are numerous – Tad Smith can be an imposing place to play when it is full and loud. Tonight should be no different. In fact, it may set the new standard.
I still have some concerns about the team handling its new found fame. Both polls rank the Rebels #16, Lunardi has the Rebels as a 7-seed in his latest "Bracketology" and suffice it to say, Marshall Henderson has become something of a national celebrity. The leadership from the veterans has been a calming influence and the team – at least so far – has done what it takes to win close games.
I expect this to be a focused Rebel group from the opening tip. They survived the trap game on the Plains Saturday night, and this is their 3rd game in 6 days. This will likely be back and forth, but – it may be my red and blue glasses – but I have a hard time going against the Rebels in this one. This is a statement game for the Rebels. While the Wildcats may be down to a degree, the fronts of their jerseys still say "Kentucky", and in the SEC, it doesn’t matter what the record is.
(Sure to be terribly, terribly wrong) Predictions:
Ole Miss 73 Kentucky 69
Another tough game for Holloway tonight against a bigger, equally-as-athletic Wildcat front court
The Jarvis Summers for MVP bandwagon makes room for more members
After a big game from Snoop Saturday night, Nick Williams shows up big tonight, igniting an early first-half run
(As always, the conference rankings pulled from kenpom.com, quite possibly the coolest site on the whole wide intertubes... Red Cup Rebellion excluded of course)