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Ole Miss travels to Syracuse for round two of NIT action

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A year removed from a Final Four run, the Orange still pose quite a challenge for the Basketbears.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia Tech at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

After putting away a frisky Monmouth squad on the road, the Rebels continue their tour of the Northeast as they face Jim Boeheim’s squad at the Carrier Dome on Saturday. Considering the program’s general dominance and where they were just a year ago, they’re underachieving in the eyes of some by not making the NCAA Tourney.

That doesn’t make them any more pleasant of a foe for Andy Kennedy and friends, as they boast a KenPom rating better than a handful of teams who actually did make the big dance. Regardless of how Syracuse fans feel about this year, they’re still a solid team and match up fairly well with Ole Miss.

While Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense has become an established talking point to the point of annoyance this time of year, it’s fallen off a bit since their Final Four run. They’ve dropped from 17th to 105th in adjusted defensive rating in just a year’s time, but they’re still fully capable of slowing down Ole Miss.

The Rebels clearly excel at generating opportunities at the foul line, leading the nation in total free throws made and sitting at fourth in free throws per field goal attempt (.334). Syracuse has allowed an 18th lowest rate here of just .192. That, combined with the NIT’s experimental rule changes that reset team fouls mid-half, could cut off what’s been a substantial part of the Rebels’ offensive output.

Against Monmouth, Ole Miss got slightly fewer looks at the charity stripe than they’re accustomed to, but countered that with one of their best shooting performances of the season, including a 45 percent outing from three. Syracuse will certainly provide chances to take shots from deep, allowing the 21st highest three point attempt rate in the nation of 43 percent. The Rebels are 12-1 in games when they’ve shot 40 percent or better, so a similar effort on Saturday would be pretty neat, in my opinion.

Ole Miss could also benefit from getting second chances, as Syracuse gives up the 12th highest offensive rebounding rate in the nation. Coming off one of his strongest games of the season, Sebastian Saiz has another chance to carve out some territory in the paint.

While their defense has faded, the Orange offense has jumped from 50th to 29th in offensive rating. If they specialize in anything, it’s three-point shooting (38 percent), but they’re capable of lighting it up all over the floor. As one of the slower paced teams in Division I, they rely much more on their halfcourt offense than the Rebels do.

Despite the majority of the roster being freshmen or sophomores, Syracuse is mature when it comes to promoting ball movement, as nearly 60 percent of their baskets are assisted (35th nationally). Andrew White leads the team with 18 points per game, but they’re also equipped with three other players who are sinking threes at a clip of 38 percent or better. Ole Miss survived a 42 percent night from beyond the arc by Monmouth on Tuesday, but they’ll have to tighten up this time around.

If the Rebels do fall this weekend, it will certainly have come against a worthy opponent. They could also win, too!

I’m just going to leave this right here.

How to watch:

Where: Syracuse, NY

When: 10:00 AM CT (ugh)

TV: ESPN

Online Streaming: WatchESPN