Vanderbilt will look to rebound from last week's loss to #1 Kentucky with a matchup against a fading Ole Miss team in Oxford Thursday night. The Rebels are just 6-8 in their last 14 games after a 9-1 start. Their .500 record has slid them over to the sad side of the bubble, and they'll be looking for a big win against the Commodores to jump-start their NCAA Tournament campaign.
Ole Miss has just one win over a ranked team this season, having toppled Egg Bowl rivals Mississippi State at the Tad Pad back in January. However, the Rebels have been strong at home. They've only lost once there this season and that was in a close game where #12 Florida had to overcome a 10 point halftime deficit for a 64-60 win.
Vanderbilt needs a victory here to stay amongst the leaders in the conference standings. A loss would push them into a four-way tie for third at 6-5 and reduce their chances at a bye in the SEC Tournament - a contest where Kevin Stallings's Commodores have traditionally struggled. A win gives them a one-game edge over Mississippi State and Tennessee and would push them within a rematch win of matching Florida for second-place in the conference.
So how can Vanderbilt topple the Rebels at the Tad Pad this season? A look at Auburn's upset win over Ole Miss for a blueprint.
Ole Miss (15-9, Unranked, #112 in the Pomeroy Rankings)
Auburn outlasted Ole Miss in a sloppy two-overtime affair that saw both teams shoot under 38 percent for the night. Ole Miss held a +10 rebounding advantage and put up 14 more shots than the Tigers but still fell when Jarvis Summers had his shot blocked by Kenny Gabriel as time wound down. Super-sub Frankie Sullivan grabbed the rebound with four seconds left and the Rebels left Alabama disappointed.
Key to Destruction: Having anyone other than Jarvis Summers shoot threes. Ole Miss went 7-28 from behind the arc, but if you exclude Summers's 4-8 night, they shot just 15 percent. This is a trend that has been consistent for the team this season. Summers is shooting 41.7 percent from three-point range this year but is only third on the team in attempted shots from that distance. Nick Williams and Dundrecous Nelson, the team's leaders in that category, are connecting at just a 30.5 and 30.1 percent clip, respectively.
Keys to the Game:
- Work the zone. Vanderbilt has been solid in their zone defense this season, adopting the live/die by the three mentality. We've seen this backfire against them in games with Arkansas and Mississippi State, but these Commodores have generally been good at forcing teams into deep shots and low-percentage situations. If Vanderbilt can force the action to the outside, Nelson and Williams are a pair of players who are willing to shoot the Rebels out of the game. However, they can also be streaky shooters - especially at home - so Vandy will have to hedge their bets if the Ole Miss backcourt comes out hot.
- Beware Ole Miss's balance. Like a poor man's small-ball version of Kentucky, the Rebels can burn you with multiple different players. They use a seven-man rotation, and five of those players are averaging 10 points or more per game this season. Auburn was able to disrupt this balance, taking leader scorer Terrence Henry out of the game (five points in 41 minutes) and forcing the action on the backcourt. Summers and Williams eventually combined for 35 points, but they needed 33 shots to get there. That's about 46 percent of the team's shots right there - and a solid example of how the Tigers eliminated the Rebels' balance in January.
- Look out for fouls. Vanderbilt will have the size advantage over the Rebels on Thursday, and while foul trouble is always a concern for guys like Festus Ezeli, Ole Miss may be able to capitalize even more than most opponents. The Rebels are averaging around 23 free throws per game, but Auburn held them to just 15 in their first meeting. The Tigers were only whistled for 16 fouls on the night, and five of those came from their center, Rob Chubb (Chubb picked up two fouls in a two-second span in the first minute of the game. Impressive). Ole Miss's athletic backcourt has the power to get into the late and draw contact, but Vanderbilt can counter like Auburn did with a small-ball lineup to limit the effectiveness of these drives. Also notable; the Rebels aren't exactly exploiting this advantage - they're shooting just 59.2 percent from the line this season.