The newly #23 ranked Ole Miss Rebels (15-2, 4-0 SEC) will host the struggling Tennessee Volunteers (9-7, 1-3 SEC) on Thursday evening. The conference matchup will receive a 6pm CT prime time television slot, with none other than legendary former Indiana Hoosier coach Bob Knight and ESPN's own Rece Davis set to call the game on ESPN2.
With Ole Miss students returning to campus for spring classes the Tuesday prior (January 22), you better believe that the "Tad Pad" will be rocking behind the boisterous support of "Club Red" (the Ole Miss student section) to show Knight and Davis how serious the folks of Oxford are about basketball.
At least on paper, it's quite a mismatch when comparing where both teams stand in late January.
#23 Ole Miss (RPI: 32, SOS: 125) couldn't really be any hotter than they are right now, off to their best start in SEC play since the 1936-1937 season. Andy Kennedy's club has only lost two games this year, losing by three points on the road at Middle Tennessee State University and dropping its only other loss by two points in overtime to Indiana State University at the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic.
It should be noted that both MTSU and ISU made appearances in the 2011 NCAA tournament. While Ole Miss would like to be undefeated right now, its two losses are far from bad.
Tennessee (RPI: 92,SOS: 47), on the other hand, comes into Oxford heading in the opposite direction. The Volunteers had dropped their last four games (Memphis, Ole Miss, at Alabama and at Kentucky) before a convincing win against a 7-9 (2-2 SEC) Mississippi State team in Knoxville this past Saturday. Scoring in not a Volunteer strong suit, averaging only 65.6 ppg this season (227th in the nation).
The players Tennessee will rely most on Thursday in Oxford are its 6'5", 178 lb. junior guard, Jordan McRae (13.8 ppg, 3.1 rpb), and its 6'8", 270 lb. sophomore forward, Jarnell Stokes (11.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg). While neither are as flashy as Ole Miss star Marshall Henderson, both post quality numbers for the Vols.
As for Ole Miss, they are led by flashy 6'2", 175 lb. junior guard Marshall Henderson (18.9ppg, tops in the SEC). While Henderson is a streaky shooter, for the good and bad, he also leads the SEC in three-point percentage (.358) having sunk 64 treys this season (21 ahead of his nearest conference competition, Texas A&M's Elston Turner). But that's not all. He also leads the SEC in free-throw percentage (.859) having made 67 of 78 attempts on the year. Nice year, Mr. Henderson.
While Henderson is the more outspoken Rebel, Kennedy's club certainly wouldn't be where they are today without the outstanding play of 6'7", 240 lb. senior forward Murphy Holloway. Currently, Holloway stands atop the conference in rebounds per game (10.6), and comes in at a very respectable eighth in the conference in scoring (15.8 ppg). It should go without saying, as go Henderson and Holloway, as go the Rebels as a team. Thus far this season, it's gone pretty darn well.
Marching its way towards a bid to dance in March for the first time under Kennedy's tenure, #23 Ole Miss will get a chance Thursday night in front of a nationally televised game, featuring two marquee college basketball announcers, to show worthiness of it's #23 ranking, currently putting up 82.4 ppg (fourth nationally) and pulling down 41.4 boards per game (11ationally).
Looking to advance to 16-2 (5-0 SEC) in 2012-2013, the Rebels should have no problem disposing of the struggling Volunteers after Tennessee runs out of steam near halftime.
This should be a fun one for the folks in Oxford, as they welcome Bob Knight and Rece Davis to the Tad Pad to call the game for their red-hot Rebels. Cracking the Top 20 of the AP Basketball Poll may not be too far off for the Rebels, either.
Ole Miss 85 - Tennessee 69
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