Following last Thursday’s drubbing at the hands of Kentucky in Oxford, the Ole Miss hoopmen get a double dose of road games this week in Gainesville and Auburn. The Rebs took an ice-cold gut check to commence SEC play this year, and getting the No. 25 Gators in a newly revamped O’Connell Center presents a formidable, if winnable, opportunity.
What will be interesting to watch as the season plays out is something Andy Kennedy touched on in his postgame presser after the Kentucky debacle.
People’ll say “maybe was the game too big?” That’s a poor indictment on us, but I hope not. Maybe it was. Maybe we’ve got guys that weren’t quite ready for it ... Cullen Neal and Deandre Burnett, I thought, would be ready for these moments; they haven’t had them with us, but they’ve had them, and they’ve gotta respond as leaders for us.
That probably reads harsher than AK delivered it, but it holds truth about this young season and some of his players’ ability to rise to the occasion for such games. Miami transfer Deandre Burnett, who’s averaging 19.2 points per game currently — good for third-best in the conference — contributed 19 against Kentucky and was 0-3 from long range, while New Mexico transfer Cullen Neal had an abysmal zero points on one attempted field goal; he also turned the ball over four times.
Now with Florida looming on Tuesday and Auburn on Saturday, the Rebel mishmash of transfers and international players can’t afford to turn in another effort like the one against Kentucky, and this road trip is a perfect opportunity to test and re-test their mettle after such a dispiriting effort in the conference opener.
Tuesday at 6 p.m. CT
ESPNU and WatchESPN
Florida plays with nowhere near the tempo Kentucky can toss off, ranked as they are 182nd in KenPom’s adjusted tempo, but they can defend to death. The Gators are allowing just 91.2 points per 100 defensive possessions at the moment, good for No. 12 in the land. Ole Miss, on the other hand, is allowing 101.4 per 100 defensive sets, which ranks the Rebs down at No. 137; allowing 99 points to the Wildcats will do those sorts of things.
The Gators are 20th in adjusted scoring rate with 114.5 points per 100 possessions, while Ole Miss is 76th with 107.9 points per 100 possessions.
If Bam Adebayo gave Kennedy and company fits last week in the low post, then the Rebs are in for another big man in the person of John Egbunu. The 6’11, 266 lbs. center is a force of nature around the basket, even though he’s been a bit hobbled by a hamstring strain lately. Do we have a Vine of him getting rim-checked against Duke last month? So glad you asked.
Florida's John Egbunu got rim checked big time https://t.co/rCk7M5X0PT— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) December 7, 2016
In any case, Mike White’s guys are playing solid basketball to this point in the season, even if they don’t shoot or make a lot of threes.
Thursday at 5 p.m. CT
SEC Network and WatchESPN
Auburn presents a more manageable matchup across the board than Kentucky or Florida. The Tigers are young this season, but at 10-3 with back-to-back wins over Oklahoma and UConn — who are admittedly going through rebuilds — they can play. Their losses to No. 17 Purdue and Boston College are nothing to snark at, but last week’s pretty convincing 96-84 loss to Georgia at home is a bit puzzling. It’s probably a good thing that Ole Miss gets Bruce Pearl’s men this early in the year.
A pair of freshmen, Danjel Purifoy and Mustapha Heron, lead Auburn this year with 14.5 and 16.2 points per game, respectively. Jared Harper, another freshman, is contributing 12.5 of his own. The Tigers are ranked down at KenPom’s No. 98, however, three spots down from Ole Miss at No. 95.
What really stands out about this year’s Tigers is how damn fast they can play. Auburn is currently ranked No. 10 in KenPom’s adjusted tempo, ripping off nearly 76 possessions per 40 minutes. Further, with 70 blocks on the season, they rank 38th nationally in that stat, and 47th in free throw attempts. They will get to the line, which may bode poorly for Ole Miss’ low post play if Sebastian Saiz starts getting fouls called on him.
The Florida game is at 6 p.m. CT on Tuesday. It’ll air on ESPNU and stream online at WatchESPN. The Auburn game is at 5 p.m. CT on Saturday. That one’ll only be streaming online at SECN+.