On the cusp of last year's SEC Tournament, Ole Miss hosted Vanderbilt in the Tad Smith Coliseum for the Rebels' 2015 senior night and promptly stumbled face-first into an 86-77 loss. M.J. Rhett -- whose length has been sorely missed this season -- topped all Rebel scorers with 18 points in the losing effort, which was ushered inexorably forth by 13 Commodore three pointers on the night.
"They put on a clinic," said Andy Kennedy following the debacle. Taken in isolation, that loss might've meant very little at the time. Yet, it capped off a two-week late season skid that saw AK's men drop three of their last four games and, worse still, plummet down NCAA Tournament seeding projections, so that on Selection Sunday Ole Miss was the last team into the Big Dance.
Ole Miss (14-8, 4-5 SEC) thus welcomes Vanderbilt (13-9, 5-4 SEC) to Oxford somewhat salty after last season's dustup, and this year's installment holds all the #SECBasketballFever hallmarks you may imagine. Two teams standing astride a .500 conference record? Yes. The possibility of a Kevin Stallings stage five nuclear anger meltdown? You bet your ass.
About that nuclear meltdown, though: Vanderbilt's sophomore guard Wade Baldwin was on the receiving end of Stallings' rage eruption last February, and this year he leads all Commodore scorers with 14.4 points per game. Further, he's shooting 46.8 percent from out in the yard and dropping 4.4 assists a night. Junior big man Damien Jones is contributing 13.6 points and 7 rebounds per outing, a stat line that induces severe aches for Sebastian Saiz's 12.8 points and 9.8 boards per game. Woof.
Stefan Moody remains the top scorer in the SEC and sixth best in the country with 23.5 points per game, and Marcanvis Hymon is slowly easing into his down under smash duties. Still, consistency from those around Moody -- especially Anthony Perez and Rasheed Brooks -- has been severely lacking, so that Brooks' 15 points in the skin-of-the-teeth win over Mizzou Wednesday should elicit a doubletake from anyone who's seen his film.
Vandy's been holding opponents to an average of 66 points per game this season -- good for 52nd best defensive rating in the country -- and the Commodores' No. 31 rank on Ken Pomeroy's current tablature is nothing to thumb one's nose at, especially considering Ole Miss' No. 100 ranking therein. Nor does the disparity end there: Vanderbilt holds the No. 54 RPI slot according to RealTimeRPI, a considerable register above the Rebs' No. 95 showing.
All of this speaks to a markedly improved Kevin Stallings club over last year's rebuild, and with just pedestrian nights from Baldwin and Jones and one or more Rebels completely checking out, Saturday could potentially be a non-starter in The Pavilion.
How to watch:
Game Time: 7 p.m. CT
Online Streaming: WatchESPN