Vanderbilt will bring a four-game winning streak to Oxford - but they'll have to contend with a Mississippi crowd that is saying goodbye to five of its seniors on Saturday night.
The Commodores and Rebels will cast off the shackles of the regular season when they clash in their 18th SEC showdown of the 2014-15 season. Vanderbilt sits at the precipice of a 9-9 conference record after starting league play 1-7. Ole Miss, on the other hand, is fighting for a double-bye at the SEC Tournament and an at-large bid in the Big Dance. While losing to Vandy at home would keep their options open, a win would make their path to the NCAA Tournament much less rocky.
Past results reflect well on the Rebels' chances. They've lost six games against conference opponents this year, but all of those came against teams with 10 SEC wins or more. The Commodores fall squarely outside that range. Factor in home court advantage and an emotional Senior Night setting and it's easy to see why Ole Miss is a significant favorite.
A Vanderbilt win on Saturday means a claim on the #7 seed in the SEC Tournament. That's some prime real estate on the opposite side of the bracket from 30-0 Kentucky. Let's take a closer look at these two teams.
The Opponent: The University of Mississippi (20-10, 11-6 SEC)
KenPom Rankings: Mississippi is 37th. Vanderbilt is 45th.
Key Stat: 34.1%. That's the percentage of shots that Jarvis Summers is making this season. That wouldn't as much of a problem for the Rebels if he weren't taking more than 10 shots per game. If you isolate this to Summers's last five games then that number drops to 28.8%.
That's a huge departure from Summers's breakout 2013-14 season. He averaged more than 17 points and shot nearly 50 percent from the field as a junior. While he's still dangerous as a slashing threat who gets to the free throw line, Vanderbilt can benefit by forcing him into poorly planned midrange jumpers. If the Commodores can stay in front of Summers then they'll keep the Rebels from playing efficient basketball on Saturday.
Matchup to Watch: Damian Jones vs. M.J. Rhett and Sebastian Saiz. Vandy will have a big advantage in the paint thanks to their All-SEC center. Jones was primed for a big game against Mississippi State on Wednesday, but foul trouble limited him to just 17 minutes. He'll have another opportunity to explode against an undersized opponent when the Commodores travel to Oxford.
Rhett and Saiz are 6'9" forwards who are efficient, low-usage players. Saiz, in particular, struggles with fouls in the paint. Vanderbilt should have a big advantage thanks to Jones's array of paint moves, provided that they can find an outlet for their big man from the arc. If Jones can score early, he'll create the space that Vandy's three-point shooters (now including James Siakam!) need to operate.
Starters and Rotation Players:
|G -||Wade Baldwin IV||8.6||3.9||4.4|
|G -||Riley LaChance||12.3||3.2||2.7|
|F -||Jeff Roberson||4.7||3.3||1.2|
|F -||James Siakam||9||5.8||0.7|
|C -||Damian Jones||14.5||6.3||0.7|
|F -||Luke Kornet||8.9||3.7||0.9|
|G/F -||Matthew Fisher-Davis||6.7||2.2||1.2|
|G -||Shelton Mitchell||4.2||2.1||3.3|
|G -||Martavious Newby||3.8||5||1.5|
|G -||Jarvis Summers||11.8||1.7||4.6|
|G -||Stefan Moody||16.7||3.4||2.1|
|F -||Sebastian Saiz||7.6||5.3||0.3|
|F -||M.J. Rhett||6.7||4.8||0.6|
|G -||Ladarius White||10.9||3.2||1.2|
|F -||Dwight Coleby||5.8||4.8||0|
|G -||Terence Smith||4.2||1.3||1.8|