College basketball in the SEC that isn't Kentucky is easy to overlook these days. Ole Miss is best known as the Alma Mater of Eli Manning and as one of the most proudly-southern schools in the deep south. These Ole Miss Rebels can play some hoops as well, however, and after knocking off Indiana and Kansas State, they move on to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off final to face our Villanova Wildcats at 8pm on Sunday night.
Ole Miss, like Villanova, is 4-0 on the season so far, beating Arkansas-Little Rock and Alabama State at home before heading to Puerto Rico. In their biggest challenge so-far, they defeated Kansas State on Friday night, 86 to 74. Four starters scored in double digits in that game, but they didn't receive much offensive production off of their bench.
The Rebels are coached by former Cincinnati (Interim) Head Coach, Andy Kennedy. Last year this team went 16-15 and tied for fourth in the SEC. They return two starters from last year's team. That was a team that was hit hard by the injury-bug, however, while this year's Ole Miss squad is healthy and ready to go.
Their team is lead by Guard Terrico White (a 6'5" sophomore), who they rely on to create plays. He is averaging 30.3 minutes and 17.3 point per game this season. Guards Chris Warren an Eniel Polynice are also averaging similarly-high minutes at 29.8 and 26.5 respectively. Warren is averaging 16 points and 3.3 assists at the point guard position. Polynice is averaging 12.3 points, 4.2 rebounds and leads the team with 4.8 assists per game so far this season.
Also starting are forwards Murphy Holloway and DeAundre Cranston. Cranston is the tallest Rebel starter at 6'9", he's averaging 8.5 points over the first four games, though this is slightly inflated by scoring 21 against Arkansas-Little Rock in the season opener. Cranston averaged 3.1 ppg and 4.2 rpg, and after a 4 point game against K-State, we can assume that Cranston will regress toward last year's numbers as they progress through the season. Holloway (a 6'7" sophomore) is averaging 15 ppg and 9 assists so far this season.
Off the bench, the Rebels are getting notable minutes out of G Zach Graham (19.3 min, 8ppg, 3.3rpg), G Trevor Gaskins (14.3 min, 5.5ppg, 2.3rpg), F Reginald Buckner (20 min, 3.5ppg, 7.3rpg, 3.8blk), and F DeAngelo Riley (10.8 min, 2.8ppg, 2.3rpg). The freshman Buckner is actually playing more minutes than starting forward Cranston. Buckner is an inch shorter but leads the team in blocks and is second to Holloway for rebounding.
Ole Miss' strength is definitely their backcourt. Terrico White and Chris Warren provide the Rebels with scoring. They are not a deep squad, however, two starting guards are averaging around 30 minutes per game, and another two are averaging about 27.
Holloway and Buchner are the leading bigs on this team, even though Cranston is getting the starts. Holloway has the most all-around potential for the Rebels, being effective on the glass as well as scoring. Buchner is mostly a defensive presence for the Rebels.
Ole Miss' lowest point total this season was 86 on friday. This is a team that can put points on the board, so shutting down their guards will be important. The Rebels are shooting 51% from the floor so far this year, but only 34.6% from beyond the arc. Cranston leads the team in 3pt percent at 66.7% (4 made of only 6 attempts), but Chris Warren leads the team on volume (8 made from beyond the arc for around 30%). The team is shooting 68% from the charity stripe.
Villanova can win this game by keeping the pressure on the Ole Miss backcourt. Neither team is going to be tremendously dominant in the paint, but their Holloway and Cranston are capable of taking advantage of weak defense inside. Cranston is averaging 4 fouls per-game however, and Holloway and Buckner are averaging around 3. With the way the whistles have been blowing in Puerto Rico, the Wildcats should take advantage (as long as we are hitting our free throws, it could work out very well).
This game will be won or lost in the backcourt. It will be interesting to see how Villanova's guards match up.
Make sure to come back to VUhoops.com during the game to participate in our Live Blog.
The two schools have only met once previously, a 72-70 Ole Miss win in the 1999 NCAA Tournament.