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Ole Miss basketball hosts beatable Murray State Thursday in The Pavilion

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The Racers are 4-5 and No. 161 in KenPom’s rankings.

NCAA Basketball: Memphis at Mississippi Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Following yet another non-conference loss to Virginia Tech that’s sure to stand out come Selection Sunday next March, Andy Kennedy’s hoopmen welcome the Murray State Racers to The Pavilion on Thursday for hopefully what will be a get-right game.

With finals and the fall semester over, the Baketbears head into the winter slate on a seesaw run through the OOC schedule. The Rebs played well outside themselves for 35 or so minutes against a Creighton team that has serious designs on an NCAA Tournament berth. They played staggeringly awful, then refreshingly well against Middle Tennessee, which of course bounced Michigan State out of last year’s Big Dance.

Then, on Sunday Ole Miss fought hard but lost to the Hokies in Blacksburg, which effectively smashes their chances of gaining that signature out-of-conference W this season. The only such opportunity left on the schedule is Baylor in Oxford on Jan. 28, 2017, but with the Bears currently ranked in the top five, the likelihood of a victory there appears to be, well, highly unlikely.

So, Murray State it is, then. According to KenPom, the Racers are scoring just shy of 107 points per 100 possessions, the 96th-ranked offensive efficiency in the country. Ole Miss is pouring in just north of 109 points per 100 possessions, good for No. 58 nationally.

Where things tighten up is on the defensive side of play, with Ole Miss allowing nearly 104 points per 100 sets (No. 178) and Murray State allowing nearly 107 (No. 248). The Racers have given up at least 70 points in every contest except one this year, a 91-54 shellacking of Alabama A&M (those Bulldogs are 0-8 and ranked dead last by KenPom). Ole Miss, for its part, has also allowed 70 points in all but one game this year, and opponents have eclipsed 80 points six times.

How to watch:

Where: The Pavilion, Oxford, Miss.
When: Thursday, Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. CT
Online Streaming: SEC Network+/WatchESPN (there will be no television broadcast)

Three things to know:

This one could turn into a close game.

The Racers are outscoring their opponents by an average of 78.4-77.1 per game. The Rebels are outscoring their opponents by an average of 81.9-80.9. Both teams have four players averaging double-digit points output, with the Rebs’ Sebastian Saiz contributing a double-double of points and rebounds per game.

Perhaps some reason for optimism for Rebel fans concerns each team’s respective box plus-minus calculations (BPM), which gauges a player’s average points per 100 possessions over a league average player. Among Murray State players with more than 100 minutes played this season, three out of seven Racers have a positive BPM score. Out of Ole Miss players with at least 100 minutes, all but one of seven rate a positive BPM score. Deandre Burnett comes in at -0.7. At least on paper, Murray State presents an encouraging matchup to AK’s guys.

Can Ole Miss contain Jonathan Stark?

Stark is averaging 21 points per game, 25 per 40 minutes, and 35 per 100 possessions. He’s currently shooting 46 percent from three point land, and he can draw contact as the Racers’ leading free throw attempt shooter with 42 shots from the gimme stripe. The junior guard is experienced, and with an average of 6 assists per game he can spread the wealth.

This will be a test for Ole Miss’ inside-out defense.

With Stark gashing around the perimeter and into the lane, Sebastain Saiz will be tasked with facing off against the 6’8, 250 lbs. Terrell Miller Jr., who’s averaging 12 points and seven rebounds per outing. He’s huge, and weirdly, he can shoot the three:

That’s FIVE three pointers on 10 attempts against Illinois State (he’s averaging just over 30 percent on 46 attempts this season). It’s this double dual threat, then, from Miller and Stark that AK is going to have to prepare the Basketbears for, because if they lose their shape in zone sets or get lost in no man’s land in man coverage, things could unravel quickly.