Momentum is a tricky thing when you've only got seven scholarship players on the roster. Vanderbilt learned that the hard way when a big upset win over Missouri dissolved into a 58-81 blowout loss to LSU in their following game.
Vanderbilt will have the chance to right that ship when Ole Miss comes to Nashville. The Commodores will have the pleasure of covering one of the SEC's most gifted shooters, Marshall Henderson. The loudmouthed gunner faced Vandy twice last season. In the first meeting, he ripped out the team's heart with a 35-foot buzzer beater that sent their first meeting into overtime. In the next, he dropped 23 points on them in the SEC Tournament semifinals to end their season. As a result, Rod Odom and Kyle Fuller will be looking for a measure of revenge this Wednesday.
They'll have their hands full when a backcourt that's been depleted by transfers, suspensions, and dismissals will square off against an Ole Miss team that is driven by its guards. Henderson, Jarvis Summers, and Derrick Millinghaus have combined to score 47.2 points per game for the Rebels this season - nearly 60 percent of their total scoring. In order to defeat the Rebels, Vandy will have to limit their effectiveness from the perimeter.
That's what Mississippi State did two weeks ago, though it came without Henderson in the lineup. Let's take a closer look to find out just how the Bulldogs pulled off the upset against their state-school rivals.
Ole Miss (12-5, 3-1 SEC, unranked in the Coaches' Poll, #91 in the Pomeroy Rankings)
Other Losses: at Kansas State, vs. Oregon, vs. Mercer, vs. Dayton
The Egg Bowl rivalry isn't limited to the gridiron, as State's upset win over Ole Miss proved earlier this month. The rebuilding Bulldogs took care of their in-state rivals to continue a surprising 2013-2014 campaign. Mississippi State is currently 12-5 on the season despite ranking in the 200s among D-I teams when it comes to scoring and rebounding.
Their biggest win of the year may have come against Mississippi, who was playing without their star Marshall Henderson and struggled to score efficiently without anyone to space the floor. The two teams actually combined for 148 points in a game where neither side shot better than 38 percent from the field. In the end, the Bulldogs out-slopped Ole Miss to hang on for a big win in Starksville.
Key to Destruction: Isolating Marshall Henderson. Mississippi's efficiency took a tumble without their star player on the court. That's not a product of the boisterous guard's shooting - he's making just 36 percent of his shots this season - but a product of his ability to draw defenders and create space for his teammates. Without Henderson, frontcourt staples Aaron Jones and Demarco Cox barely touched the ball, scoring just five points on seven FG attempts. Jarvis Summers, Ladarius White, and Derrick Millinghaus did their best to keep OM alive, but didn't have the firepower to rally the Rebels to a win.
Keys to the Game:
- Exploit Ole Miss's lack of depth. Henderson's absence pressed an issue that has hurt the Rebels this season - their bench does little to inspire fear in opponents. Against Mississippi State, four different players came off the pine to play double-digit minutes. They combined to make just six of their 19 shot attempts. Unfortunately, Vanderbilt has even less depth than Mississippi - to the point where bringing four players off the bench this season would be almost impossible. However, Vandy has players who have become accustomed to ironman basketball, and they may be able to wear out the Rebels enough to press the action to their second unit.
- Control the paint. Mississippi does not have a host of scoring options in the front court, and while Aaron Jones can be a defensive beast, he also fouls a ton. MSU fouled out Jones in 21 minutes and limited Ole Miss's centers to three points and three rebounds in 27 combined minutes. The Bulldogs utilized a lineup of tenacious forwards - Gavin Ware, Roquez Johnson, and Colin Borchert - to ensure that the Rebels wouldn't be able to get any contributions up front. By chopping off OM's scoring around the basket, they forced the team into the midrange game, where an inefficient Mississippi team struggled to score.
- Isolate Marshall Henderson. Just in case you forgot what he can do, here's how he helped convince Kevin Bright to return to Germany last year:
Ole Miss was backed into a corner without Marshall Henderson or any semblance of efficient frontcourt scoring. That put insurmountable pressure on a team loaded with shoot-first guards and wings. When their low-percentage shots didn't fall, State battled for a big home victory.
Vanderbilt can do the same, but they'll have to pressure Henderson into having a bad night. That's something that Kyle Fuller and Dai-Jon Parker are capable of, but the pressure of playing 40 minutes apiece could end up being the key to more Landshark theatrics late in Wednesday's game.