At 9-3, Ole Miss basketball commences the SEC schedule on Thursday while playing rather inconsistent basketball currently. The Rebs are fresh off two wins, sure, but those wins came over Bradley and South Alabama, neither of which one could describe as high-profile opponents.
It’s not that the Basketbears have played poorly overall, though. They’ve won the games they needed to and lost a few close resume builders late. No, Andy Kennedy’s men this season lack consistency within games, where two, three and four minute stretches may see the Rebs go scoreless and lose their heads on defense.
Now No. 6 Kentucky comes to Oxford, and it’s time to establish cohesion on both sides of the floor.
John Calipari’s Wildcats, for their part, look very much like Kentucky teams of the past five or so years. At 10-2, Big Blue has losses to No. 11 UCLA and most recently to No. 10 Louisville on its plate, but the ‘Cats have also knocked off No. 7 North Carolina, No. 13 Michigan State and Stephen F. Austin, a veritable terror of a tournament team last year.
It should come as no surprise that Kentucky ranks No. 5 in adjusted offense and No. 7 in adjusted defense, according to KenPom. Ole Miss ranks No. 69 and No. 131 in those categories respectively. Coach Cal is also enjoying the services of one Malik Monk, the No. 9 overall recruit out of last year’s class and a projected top-five overall NBA Draft pick. Monk can pull up from anywhere on the floor at any moment, with devastating results.
If there’s one way to beat Kentucky’s surplus of raw talent, it’s with experience, rhythm and having played a lot of minutes together. Ole Miss cannot boast such mitigating factors, stacked as the Rebs are with transfers and underclassmen. The defense might seemingly be coming together, but it will take a Herculean effort across the board for the Rebs to have a chance in this one.
AK’s most important player, Sebastian Saiz, represents the great linch pin in this game. Saiz has now played against Kentucky twice, and it’ll be his unblinking leadership in the face of a ‘Cats maelstrom that could prove to keep the glue intact down the stretch. The big Spaniard is averaging a double-double thus far in 2016, and he ranks as the top rebounder in the SEC. He’ll be backed up by Deandre Burnett and spark plug Terence Davis, both of whom need to have stellar nights if the Rebs have designs on keeping scoring pace with Kentucky.
Most salient here, of course, is that this is Coach Cal’s first trip to The Pavilion, where the Rebs are on a four-game winning streak. Whatever happens, this game has NCAA Tournament “eye-test” considerations written all over it. Are you ready?
How to watch
Where: The Pavilion, Oxford, Miss.
When: 7 p.m. CT
Online Streaming: WatchESPN