Ole Miss is set to face what will more than likely be its toughest opponent of the year Thursday as it faces off against #9 Louisville in Cincinnati. The game tips at 8 p.m. and will be aired on ESPN, hooray!*
Louisville is 6-1 on the season with their lone loss coming to the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, which shows that this team is definitely fallible. With the loss of Courtney Lee to the NBA, the Hilltoppers are not the upset threat that they were last season so their win against Louisville should provide a small glimmer of hope for the Rebels.
The game is going to be a homecoming of sorts for Rebels head coach Andy Kennedy as he spent a few years under West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins in Cincinnati and served as the Bearcats interim coach for the 2005-2006 season and developed strong support from the Bearcat faithful. The fans in Cincinnati have not forgotten the run Kennedy had in the 05-06 season where he nearly (read: should have but was looked over by the selection committee) put the Bearcats in the Tournament after its rocky start due to suspensions, injuries and controversy. This could provide the Rebels with a few more fans than expected in Cincinnati.
It’s also helpful that Louisville, traditionally, plays its worst basketball at the start of the season. It seems that Louisville starts every season around the top 10 in the nation because they are consistently overrated, and then fades until they make some noise in Big East play. I am sure someone can correct me on that stat because I put zero research into it and am just going on what I have seen over the past few seasons.
If the Rebels want to be competitive against Louisville they are going to have find a way to rebound the basketball. Malcolm White showed promise against Alabama State collecting 9 rebounds for the Rebels, and Deaundre Cranston has shown he can be a capable rebounder at times (see 12 rebounds against UCF). It’s the freshmen that will have to step it up for the Rebels. Holloway and Henry are undersized, but they have to increase their aggression on the glass, Huertas is 6’5" and is out rebounding those two.
They also have to establish a post game offensively. Louisville is going to have an answer for the Warren/Huertas combination, they’re too good of a team not to: a) be able to scheme around those two. b) have a player capable of hanging with them on the perimeter
Holloway has come on as of late and put it in 15 against Alabama State. His athleticism and knack for finishing around the basket when necessary could be beneficial for the Rebels against an athletic Louisville team. Malcolm White will also have to go above and beyond his 12-point output against Alabama State. White needs to establish himself early and realize that he can back down defenders. He is too complacent offensively and really needs to gain confidence on the blocks. The third player the Rebels need to break out is Terrance Henry. Henry is rail thin so I see why he is having trouble adapting to Division 1 basketball, but he needs to put his athleticism and ability to stretch the floor to more use. Down the road, if he bulks up, Henry can be a Wayne Chism type player, but right now the Rebels need him to increase his tenacity on the boards and take players off the dribble.
Defensively, the Rebels need to hope for a poor shooting night by the Cardinals. I have not seen anything from the Rebel defense that leads me to believe that they have an answer for anyone’s offense, especially after they just let Alabama State put up 81 points.
Chris Warren versus Jerry Smith
OM – Warren is second on the team in scoring and third in the SEC in scoring so far this season. A lot has been demanded of Warren with the injuries to Polynice and Gaskins and he is doing more than his fair share in trying to get the Rebels back on track. Warren is still one of the best point guards in the SEC and should prevent some problems for Louisville.
UL – Smith has been platooning the point guard spot with senior Andre McGee. Smith is averaging eight points a game and is shooting over 40 percent from beyond the three-point line this season. The other potential starter at point for Louisville, McGee, is averaging nearly five points a game and is second on the team in steals, but has a less than stellar assist to turnover ratio.
Advantage Ole Miss
David Huertas versus Preston Knowles
OM – Huertas is tearing up the league right now averaging 21 points per contest, which puts him second in the SEC and in the top 20 nationally. Huertas isn’t compiling these numbers by putting up 20 shots a game, but rather by hitting everything he puts up. Huertas is scorching the net shooting 47% from long range, 54% overall and 80% from the charity stripe
UL – The two spot is another area where the Cardinals have been rotating starters, at least that’s the way it seems from the box scores and season stats. Knowles will probably get the start here after putting up 21 points on 8-11 shooting in their last game against Austin Peay. One advantage the Rebels could have is that both Knowles and his counterpart Edgar Sosa are a bit undersized for the two guard and will give up four inches to David Huertas.
Advantage – Ole Miss
Terrico White versus Terrence Williams
OM – Terrico White seems to be slowly adapting after a rocky start to his college career. He has posted 6, 8 and 11 in his last three games and is averaging 7 points per game on the season. White has been inconsistent from the free throw line, but has been respectable from beyond the arc shooting near 40%. The Rebels will need him, or Graham, to step up on both ends to shut down Terrence Williams and neutralize him with a strong offensive showing.
UL – Terrence Williams is a 6’6" senior who is averaging nearly 11 points and nine rebounds per game thus far. Williams has the ability to stretch the floor, but has struggled mightily with his jump shot and from the foul line this season. He is a player who plays bigger than his listed height and could cause some problems for the Rebels with his strong defensive presence. Ole Miss need to contain Williams’s production offensively and cannot let him get lost while they focus on shutting down the Cardinal big men.
Advantage – UL
Murphy Holloway versus Earl Clark
OM – Holloway has been playing very well lately for the Rebels and will probably get the starting nod Thursday, whether it is at the four or the three in place of Terrico/Graham. Holloway scored 15 against Alabama State and collected 6 rebounds by doing a little bit of everything for the Rebels. The freshman from Irmo, SC is third on the team in points per game and could use his athleticism to create mismatches offensively if he plays at the four.
UL – Earl Clark is as solid as they come. Clark is a 6’9" tweener who is averaging 12 points and 8 rebounds per contest. He is second on the team in blocked shots and will be handful for whomever the Rebels throw at him.
Advantage – UL
Malcolm White versus Samardo Samuels
OM – The good news is that White had his best game as a Rebel against Alabama State. The bad news is that it was against Alabama State and it was nothing too eye popping. White has to grow up quickly before Thursday. Samuels is one of the best centers in the NCAA and is showing that on the stat sheet, albeit against not so great competition. White has to stay out of foul trouble and find a way to keep Samuels out of the paint, I know that sounds obvious but it is just what has to be done. I expect White to be in foul trouble early and often trying to handle Samuels and you will see Cranston, Henry, Cantinol (unfortunately) get a shot at limiting UL’s freshman phenom.
UL – Samuels has been exactly what Cardinal fans expected when they inked the 6’8" freshman from St. Benedict Prep (who has produced players like J.R. Smith, Corey Stokes and Lance Thomas). Samuels is putting up 17 ppg while shooting a ridiculous 63% from the field. Samuels should have a field day with our post defense and should be the reason the Cardinals beat us. That and our inability to defend/rebound.
Advantage – UL
A player that Ole Miss fans are familiar with, Reginald Delk, is seeing playing time for the Cardinals. Delk is one of the Delk brothers from Rick Stansbury’s squad that transferred a year or so ago.