Coach Andy Kennedy's Ole Miss Rebels (18-4, 7-2 SEC) are now halfway through Southeastern Conference play following a convincing 93-75 win over rival Mississippi State on February 6.
Nine conference games now stand between the Ole Miss Rebels and their postseason lives.
Over these final nine regular-season games, it's crucial that Marshall Henderson and the Rebels play their very best to position themselves for solid seeding in both the SEC and NCAA tournaments.
Next up for Ole Miss, the same No. 21 Missouri Tigers (16-6, 5-4 SEC) that the Rebels knocked off in Oxford 64-49 on Jan. 12 when the Tigers held a No. 10 ranking. The difference in the upcoming rematch in Columbia, MO will be that Missouri's leading scorer, forward Laurence Bowers (15.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg), will be in the lineup this time around. Bowers missed the earlier matchup with an injury.
Andy Kennedy knows that his club will have very limited opportunities for quality wins down the stretch (SOS: 119), so a second victory over No. 21 Missouri (RPI: 34) would look very solid on the Rebels' NCAA tournament resume come mid-March. After Missouri, the Rebels won't likely face another ranked team the remainder of the regular season.
On to the matchup at hand, here is a look at some telling statistics.
Ole Miss, led by SEC leading scorer Marshall Henderson (20 ppg), is fifth in the nation in scoring (79.9 ppg). Not very far behind, Missouri is scoring 76 points per game (29th nationally). Neither team has a probably putting up points, so a high-scoring affair should be expected.
While the Rebels (40.5 rpg) and F Murphy Holloway (10 rpg) are 13th nationally in rebounding, Missouri (41.5 rpg) and F Alex Oriakhi (8.2 rpg) are the nation's seventh best squad on the boards.
Digging a little deeper into the rebound category though, and Kennedy's Rebels only possess a plus-2.9 rebound margin per game compared to SEC leader Missouri's plus-9.2 rebound margin per game.
The battle of big men on the boards could very well be a deciding factor in the outcome of the game. Keeping the guys in the paint out of foul trouble will be paramount for both clubs.
Missouri turns the ball over at a much worse rate (minus-0.67 turnover ratio per game, ninth in SEC) than does Ole Miss (plus-4.2 turnover ration per game). Protecting the ball will be another key element in the rematch.
If Rebel guards Marshall Henderson, Jarvis Summers and Ladarius White can continue to be stingy with turnovers, it could have a very positive impact on the outcome of the game.
Marshall Henderson may be third in the SEC in free-throw percentage (.860), but as a team, the Missouri Tigers lead the entire conference from the charity stripe (.740). Ole Miss as a team is eighth in the SEC, only sinking 67.9 percent of their free-throw attempts each game.
Sure, the Rebels may get to the free-throw line more than any other team in the league (561 attempts on the year), but they will have to become more consistent from the charity stripe as competition stiffens.
In the End
While Ole Miss defeated Missouri handily earlier in the year, the rematch at Missouri should be a much closer affair from start to finish. The Tigers may have dropped their most recent game on the road at Texas A&M (L, 70-68), but Missouri is an entirely different team at home.
The biggest key to the game will be whether or not Ole Miss can keep forwards Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner out of foul trouble and on the court. Andy Kennedy now has to rely on freshmen reserves Terry Brutus and Anthony Perez to step up since forward Aaron Jones went down with a torn ACL. Both possess the physique to compete in the SEC, but both young men are very inexperienced right now.
Prediction: Missouri 78, Ole Miss 73
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