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The SEC's Worst Losses: Ole Miss

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The good thing about Wednesday's matchup against Ole Miss is that it can't be technically be considered a trap game - that term doesn't apply when your team hasn't been winning. Still, the Rebels are a dangerous opponent who are close to desperation mode after losing their first three SEC games. Coming off an 18-point pasting to Georgia at home, Andy Kennedy's team has to know that a win at Memorial Gym is just the thing his team needs to swing back towards the NCAA Tournament bubble.

Vanderbilt, however, will be playing at home with a team and fanbase filled with pent up fury from Saturday's loss to Tennessee. How they play Wednesday night will go a long way in figuring out how this squad reacts to adversity. If they fire out of the gates and push a mismatched Ole Miss up and down the court, then Commodore fans will be able to breathe easy for a few days. If Chris Warren heats up and gives Vandy fits like Bruce Ellington, Travis Leslie, and Scotty Hopson before him, then the chatter of concern will float around West End even if the team wins.

The Rebels' recent history suggests that Vanderbilt should be able to come away with a win on their home floor, as Ole Miss's best road win has been against Arkansas-Little Rock and the team has been sputtering since the start of SEC play. Their worst loss of the season so far has come against their arch-rivals Mississippi State at home. So how did the dysfunctional Bulldogs top their in-state brethren? Let's take a look.

Mississippi (12-6, Unranked) 

Worst Loss: vs. Mississippi State (10-7, KenPom #148CBS RPI #190), 64-69
Other Losses: vs. Dayton, at Miami (FL), vs. Colorado State, at Florida, vs. Georgia
The Rebels (KenPom #81CBS RPI #82) had the misfortune of hosting Mississippi State during a rare week when Renardo Sidney wasn't suspended, so the Bulldogs' low rankings don't necessarily reflect the team that showed up in Oxford that day. Sidney torched Ole Miss for 24 points on just 12 shots and helped exploit Mississippi's weak frontcourt. While Chris Warren was a force for the Rebels, the rest of the starting lineup was not - and this lack of flexibility and balance gave MSU all they needed to post the road win.

Key to Destruction: Exploiting Mississippi's frontcourt. State's big man combination of Sidney and Kodi Augustus combined for 39 points and 19 rebounds while Ole Miss's starting forwards went for eight points and nine boards. Part of this mismatch between units was thanks to Sidney's work on Reginald Buckner, who was saddled with foul trouble and played just 15 minutes in the game. While Steadman Short played well in Buckner's absence, he couldn't keep up with the Bulldogs' scoring talent. This disparity played a big role in Mississippi State's upset win.

Keys to the Game: 
  • Feed the Fes: Part of Sidney's ability to dominate Ole Miss was thanks to his shooting range (two three-pointers), but his success also came from mismatches and the ability to draw fouls. Reginald Buckner and Terrance Henry are solid role players, but neither has the ability to stop Festus Ezeli in the paint if Ezeli plays like he did against Georgia last week. Both of Miss's starting forwards tend to be foul prone (24 combined fouls in three SEC games this year) and that's something that Ezeli and guys like Lance Goulbourne, Rod Odom, and Jeffery Taylor need to take advantage of. If the 'Dores can get into the paint - either through passing or drives - then they'll be able to get their offense going. 
  • Stop Chris Warren: Warren was the most productive Rebel in the MSU loss, and at times it seemed like his supporting cast just couldn't keep up with him. He outscored the rest of the team's starters 25-22 and kept Ole Miss in the game with seven three-pointers to key the team's offense. He has the ability to out-shoot Vanderbilt's zone defense and press them into man-to-man; an area where the Commodores are less efficient defenders. If Warren gets hot, he'll be able to swing the momentum of this game - and we all know how the 'Dores react when the momentum isn't going their way.
  • Defend, Don't Foul: Despite playing at home, Ole Miss attempted just five free throws for the game. Warren, who averages five FT/game and is nearly automatic from the line, had zero attempts. However, few of the other Rebels have been able to get to the charity stripe regularly this season; the Commodores have 62 more free throw attempts as a team this season than Mississippi despite playing two fewer games. Still, the Rebels are a dangerous squad, and if Vandy loses composure and lets this team get to the free throw line, it could be enough to swing the balance of the game. 
In all, Chris Warren will present a challenge for this team, but Ole Miss doesn't have the talent to match up against Vanderbilt beyond that. The Warren vs. John Jenkins matchup should be fun to watch for all of us who enjoy three-point shooting contests, and all eyes will be on Lance Goulbourne to see how he responds to one of his worst games as a Commodore. Unless the team is looking ahead to Saturday's showdown with St. Mary's, Vandy should be able to win this one - and it's unlikely that they're taking anything for granted after the Tennessee loss.