It's finally here. The NCAA tournament returns in full force this Thursday and your Musketeers are a 6 seed. We had to wait a few extra days to find out who we were facing, and the Rebels of Ole Miss earned it fair and square in their game against BYU. To get you ready for the game, we talked to our good friend Zach Berry over at Red Cup Rebellion. Let's see what he had to say.
1.) That Tuesday night game against BYU was incredibly exciting for the rest of the country, how exciting was it for Ole Miss?
The conversation surrounding Ole Miss basketball is usually about the out-dated arena they've played in for the last 49 years or the disappointing attendance numbers year in and year out. But, I firmly believe there is a large contingency of the Rebel faithful that are invested wholeheartedly. Tuesday night was huge for not only the momentum of the team heading into the matchup with your Musketeers, but also for the program moving forward. If you didn't know, Ole Miss will be opening a new arena that will (hopefully) be ready by December 2015 and jump start a roundball revival in Oxford. The excitement shown last night from the university and the fans is hopefully a precursor for the future.
2.) Stefan Moody has been getting a lot of coverage, but who else on your team should we be worried about?
The x-factor that everyone has been waiting to explode this season has always been LaDarius White. He's had games this season with 15+ points eight times, two were 20+. At 6'6, he can be a matchup nightmare for folks on the wing as he has no conscious when it comes to firing threes. But, if you step out on defense or hedge with a big man on a ball screen, he can put it on the floor and get to the hoop as well. Be weary of White from downtown, though. As I alluded to before, he can be deadly from deep and he will not stop shooting once he gets hot.
3.) Y'all took Kentucky to overtime earlier this season. What worked well for you in that game?
Aside from getting 25 from Moody and 23 from Summers, the game was almost won from the Rebels controlling the paint, outscoring Kentucky 30-26. This, combined with an unwavering swagger despite playing in front of a sold out Rupp Arena kept the Rebels in the game despite being down 12-0 early. There have been some ugly losses this season, but when Kennedy gets his kids motivated, they will go to war for him against anyone. You all saw that first half against BYU when they were down 17 at halftime.
4.) Somewhat unrelated to Mississippi, but how excited are you for the NCAA tournament to be fully back on Thursday?
People have been griping for the past couple years about college basketball getting worse and worse due to inefficient offenses, one-and-done lottery picks and questionable leadership at the highest level. But, everyone tunes in for March Madness. Everyone is 0-0 (technically we're 1-0) and everyone technically has a chance to be the next Butler or VCU or George Mason. I'm especially excited this year just to see if Kentucky can run the table and finish 40-0. It takes a special collection of players and coaches to achieve a perfect season. It is by no means an accident that this hasn't happened since 1976.
5.) How do you think this game will go?
It's no secret that Ole Miss' offense runs through Stefan Moody. When he is making shots, everything opens up for everyone else and the team plays with a lot more confidence. When he isn't making shots, the paint can be squeezed down, making it much more difficult for Summers, White and Rhett to make an impact off the bounce. The amount of efficiency y'all play with on offense could be an issue for the Rebels and I think Matt Stainbrook can really cause the Rebels some problems down low. He is quite nimble for a big man and if he is successful down low and gets Sebastian Saiz or Dwight Coleby into early foul trouble, Ole Miss won't have an answer for the big man on the low block.
Looking at both ends of the spectrum, the way Ole Miss loses this game is almost how they did it on Tuesday: slow start. After seeing a stat that said 80% of your regular season wins were by 10 or more, it started to worry me a bit. Due to your depth and free throw shooting, that can be a serious problem trying to mount a comeback. Did I mention y'all were extremely efficient with the basketball on offense?
On the flip side, I noticed what your biggest weakness was: three-point defense. In case you missed it, Ole Miss really likes to shoot the three ball. The Rebels will come in waves with Moody, Summers, White and Terence Smith. The offensive approach is either work the ball around the perimeter to get Moody open where he can either shoot or create off the dribble. This in turn can work for him to either fill up the stat sheet and make buckets, or create for others.
Same goes with Summers. He hasn't shot the ball well this season but he is still capable of taking a game over off the dribble and getting the basket and to the foul line. Which brings me to my x-factor for Thursday: Ole Miss' free throw shooting. The Rebels get to the line often and don't get cheated. They shoot the freebies at 77% and create opportunities from driving to the hoop and creating offensive rebound opportunities.
With that being said, if this game's pace is brought to a halt by your half-court sets and ball movement to chew clock, it could be a low-scoring affair won by you Musks. But, I look for Ole Miss to pressure the basketball, mix in some 1-3-1 zone and continue to shoot the three ball well and run away with this one late.
Prediction: Ole Miss 78-70