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Undefeated No. 22 Ole Miss will face top five Tennessee in toughest test yet

If the Rebels are for real, Saturday will prove all the doubters

NCAA Basketball: Memphis at Mississippi Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

A tale as old as time - Ole Miss basketball starting conference play on the road against one of the best teams in the league.

It’s fine this year, however, as the Rebels (13-0) are off to its best start in 15 years, and a road trip to Knoxville should give fans a really good snapshot of how good this team really is.

The No. 5 Volunteers (10-3) aren’t undefeated, but all three losses for this team are to some of the best teams in the country (Kansas, Purdue and North Carolina). Now, that doesn’t mean all is lost as the Rebels and Vols have a common opponent in NC State whom both teams beat.

Ole Miss absolutely dominated the Wolfpack by 20 points, and a few weeks later Tennessee beat NC State in Knoxville by nine points. So obviously the Rebels will win by 11, case closed your honor.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

Rick Barnes has yet again cobbled together a very good team at Tennessee, and it is led by Dalton Knecht, a transfer from Northern Colorado. Knecht is a microwave player, heats up fast and can carry this team if needed - he dropped 37 on UNC and 21 on Illinois in previous top 25 games. On the flip side, he has had stretches where his shooting goes cold and scored a combined 15 points against Tarleton St., NC State, and Georgia Southern.

The Vols are fairly balanced offensively however with Santiago Vescovi as a deep threat, Zakai Zeigler as a do-everything point guard, and rangy 6’6” guard Josiah-Jordan James who averages 11 points and seven rebounds a game. Jonas Aidoo is the key cog down low at 6’11”, but he could very easily have his hands full with Ole Miss’ Moussa Cisse who is a matchup issue for just about anyone.

The x-factor in this game is not in the x’s and o’s, however. Matthew Murrell and Allen Flanigan have faced the Vols previously and have the SEC experience to lead this team, but moreso head coach Chris Beard has coached games like this a hundred times and also at higher levels with more on the line. The moment should not be too big for this coaching staff to keep Ole Miss in this game.

The talent is there for a potential upset, but a win on Rocky Top is very tough to come by no matter who is lining up. There’s no betting line that I can find as of Thursday morning, but USA Today’s gambling experts have predicted this game as a Tennessee win, 77-67.

This is going to be a very physical, challenging basketball game for Ole Miss. Fans are about to find out exactly what it has and if the NCAA tournament is really in the cards for the Rebels. The game tips off Saturday at 5 p.m. CT on the SEC Network.