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Southern Miss Basketball: Undefeated Until Saturday?

I really hate Southern Miss.

I mean it. I'm not from Mississippi, so I'm not one of those "oh, I cheer for USM and State when they aren't playing Ole Miss" kind of people. And being from Georgia, I'd rather drink a pot of coffee and eat 4 bran muffins while driving in rush hour traffic in Atlanta before cheering for Georgia Tech, so I really just don't GET that line that thinking.

Maybe it's because I was stuck in Hattiesburg for a couple years eating at chain restaurants and dive bars when the wife and I wanted a night away from the house, which required having to dodge "out of town" drivers from Perry and Marion County who easily confuse the accelerator and brakes on their car (they also never use blinkers or change broken headlights, taillights, or their oil).

Maybe it's the brazen, obnoxious USM fans who incessantly believe they should be in the SEC, Big East or any other conference regardless of regional affiliation so they could one day go to a BCS bowl (note: this is basically saying, "Ole Miss and State can't do it, but we sure as hell could, SMTTT!").

So when Larry Eustachy brings a 5-0 Golden Eagles team into Oxford for basketball, I can't help but be a little more than excited about the game.


I'm not going to make an endless stream of Eustachy-drinking problem jokes. It's been well-documented that I enjoy imbibing upon occasion (see: days ending in y, 'cept Sunday before or during church). All I'll say is that the only time I ever met Eustachy, his eyes were bloodshot and he smelled like the inside of a bum's pocket.

OK, on to the important stuff.

Southern Miss does have an absolutely credible quality win at South Florida. It was the first game of the  year, yes, and South Florida is no powerhouse, but I would take that win right now if it was available for the Rebels. South Florida is in the Big East, lest you forget, and that win certainly helps the Golden Eagles' RPI.

Other wins over South Alabama, McNeese State, Spring Hill (I'm sorry.. where?) and Alcorn State are nothing in my mind to make me believe Southern is a fantastic team this year. Their projected RPI is currently around #56 while the Rebels are around #60 with a 3-2 record, which speaks greater volumes of the difficulty of our schedule thus far.

Last year, I'm sure you remember the Ole Miss-Southern Miss barn burner that went down to the wire in Oxford. Ole Miss has NEVER lost to USM in Oxford and last year it took a breakaway Eniel Polynice dunk as time nearly expired to win 81-79. If I can recall that game with minimal detail without looking up a game recap, then I have very few doubts that Eustachy has mentioned it at least a dozen-hundred times leading up to this Saturday (between shaking martini's...ok no more).

R.L. Horton and Gary Flowers are the undoubted leaders of the team. These are two of the four Golden Eagles averaging double digits in points so far this season.

The statistics show that USM is first in the nation in rebounds per game (50.4) and 15th overall in points per game (more than 84). Considering the competition they have faced, I would hope Ole Miss would have near the same results.

Rebounding will win this game for either team. Southern Miss is no slouchy team by any stretch of the imagination, especially against the glass. The Rebels will have to hit the boards and take advantage of every possession by establishing a legitimate post presence.

The gameplan for Ole Miss at times this season seems to have centered around the 3-point game (Trevor Gaskins draining six such shots in route to victory over Penn State, for example). I fear that if the three's are not dropping, there is not another consistent way for the Rebels to score outside of Chris Warren and Co. driving to the basket and picking up fouls.

This game will have a ton of emotion to it, and no lead will be safe. The second half of the Miami game proved that the Rebels are pretty much the same inconsistent offensive threat they have been the past four years.

If Ole Miss can outhustle a scrappy Southern Miss team, then they win. I don't see Ole Miss having a huge athletic or length advantage in the game. If Buckner fouls out or gets in foul trouble early though, things could get messy down low.

Bold predictions:

- Larry Eustachy and Andy Kennedy both decide to forego the square after the game.

- Chris Warren, Trevor Gaskins, Nick Williams and Zach Graham all score in double digits and combine for 64 points.

- Buckner rebounds from his last one block game at Miami with a four block game against USM. He also snags eight rebounds in his most complete game of the season.

Final prediction:

Ole Miss 76

Southern Miss 72