Ole Miss controlled the pace and found more scoring threats to advance to the Paradise Jam championship with a win over Saint Joseph's on Sunday, 81-68. The Rebels topped the 80-point mark again to reach 4-0 for the year - Ole Miss has scored at least 80 points in every game this season. Comparably, this was the Rebels’ largest win of the year.
Leading the charge was Sebastian Saiz, who struggled Friday to find his rhythm, and worked his hook shot down low regularly to post 26 points and 12 rebounds. This was Saiz's second double double on the young season and a career-high night for the big Spaniard.
It was a comforting change for Ole Miss as much of the pressure to score has been squarely on the shoulders of Deandre Burnett, who set a tournament record with 41 points Friday. Burnett was second in scoring against Saint Joseph's with 20 points.
Now, the Rebels move forward to face the No. 20 ranked Creighton Blue Jays tonight at 7:30 p.m. CT on the somewhat reliable CBS Sports Network. In 2014, Ole Miss beat Creighton 75-68, and a win would be the best start for the Rebels since the 2013-2014 season when Andy Kennedy’s men started 6-0.
The Rebels have not had marked success in early season tournaments but did finish second to Villanova in the 2009 Puerto Rico Tip Off.
Tempo and scoring have been a penchant of Andy Kennedy's tenure at Ole Miss, and the game against Creighton will potentially be a very high scoring affair. Creighton dispatched the NC State Wolfpack 112-94 on Sunday and also topped 100 points against Washington State on Friday.
Creighton is averaging 96 points per game compared to Ole Miss at 88, and both teams have five players averaging double digit points per game.
For Ole Miss to pull off a big upset against the Blue Jays, it will have to lock down on its perimeter defense. Creighton is shooting 48 percent from behind the arc in its first four games, which includes an upset of No. 9 Wisconsin.
The Rebel defense has not been terrible in the perimeter with the exception of the barn burner with Oral Roberts. Through the first four games of the season, the Rebs’ opponents are shooting thus from beyond the arc:
UT Martin: 36.4 percent
UMass: 39.4 percent
Oral Roberts: 57.9 percent
Saint Josephs: 36.4 percent
Coach Kennedy typically bounces from a 2-3 zone to man defense depending on match-ups, and typically that 2-3 zone gets torched from three point range. Certainly, the Rebels have a deeper team compared to last season, but they cannot run in man for 40 minutes against a team like Creighton.
The Rebels have also had some recent success with the 1-3-1 three quarters press in causing turnovers and quick points. This kind of press could cause a wild up and down game that would end in another triple digit outcome most likely in favor of Creighton.
If Ole Miss can balance its defensive sets and rotate well in its zone, the Blue Jays can be held in check because of Ole Miss' length.
Creighton has allowed 80 points per game on the year, so expect a high scoring, up tempo kind of game. The Jays don't necessarily rebound especially well, so if they have a poor shooting night, Saiz, Justas Furmanavicius and Marcanvis Hymon could clean up on the boards and limit second chance points.
The Rebels can win this basketball game — the gap is not as large as it may have seemed when the season began — but AK’s guys need to play their best game of the year for the upset to happen.