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The SEC's Worst Losses: Ole Miss

Vanderbilt picked up its biggest win of the season on Thursday when it toppled No. 8 Texas A&M. Now the Commodores need to roll that momentum forward by beating Ole Miss.

Damian probably got two fouls called on him for this one.
Damian probably got two fouls called on him for this one.
Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt notched the biggest win of its season when the Commodores beat No. 8 Texas A&M on Thursday night. Now they need to avoid a letdown against 14-8 Ole Miss.

Vanderbilt's schedule has hit cruising altitude after a tough stretch to start its SEC schedule. The 'Dores faced each of the league's top five teams in the first half of conference play and went just 2-3. Now, they'll get a five-game stretch where their opponents are a combined 15-30 against SEC foes.

Of course, just because Vandy should win these games doesn't mean they will. The Commodores have dotted 2015-16 with disappointing results, and they've still got plenty to prove on the hardwood. If they can take care of business, VU will enter the final two weeks of the regular season with a 10-4 SEC record and a strong grasp on an at-large NCAA Tournament bid. If they slip up, there's no telling where they'll land on the postseason bubble.

That journey starts on Saturday in Oxford, Mississippi. Ole Miss hasn't been great this winter, but Stefan Moody and the Rebels still have the firepower to defend their home court and erase whatever goodwill Thursday's win brought the Commodores. They'll do everything in their power to keep Vandy from turning an upset victory into a winning streak. Here's how Kevin Stallings and his team can beat them.

Mississippi (14-8, 4-5 SEC, ranked No. 100 in Ken Pomeroy's ratings)

Worst Loss: vs. George Mason (8-14. 2-7 Atlantic 10, No. 187 KenPomNo. 164 CBS RPI), 62-68
Other Losses: vs. Seton Hall, at Kentucky, at LSU, vs. Florida, vs South Carolina, at Mississippi State, at Kansas State

While a road loss to Mississippi State weighs down Ole Miss's record, it can't compare to a neutral-court beating at the hands of a team that has lost to Colgate, Towson, James Madison, and St. Bonaventure by double-digits this winter. The Rebels came back from a 12 point second half deficit to tie the game with four minutes to go, but the Patriots' clutch shooting prevented a come-from-ahead loss at the Charleston Classic.

Ole Miss shot less than 35 percent from the field in their first defeat of the season. George Mason, who is shooting under 41 percent in games against teams that aren't from Oxford, made nearly half their baskets. The Patriots won despite turning the ball over 18 times - a stat that should comfort Vandy fans who have watched their team's ballhandling fall apart in losses.

Point of emphasis: Make Damian Jones look like a (black and) golden god. The Rebels allowed George Mason center Shevon Thompson to have his best performance of the season in their loss to GMU in November. Thompson made eight of his 10 shots and dominated the boards en route to a 19-point, 16-rebound, three block game. The Patriots' big man is a solid player, but he doesn't have the tools or athleticism that Jones will bring to the paint on Saturday. As long as Vandy's guards can find outlets for him, the Commodore center should have plenty of chances to score on an undersized Rebel team.

Keys to the Game:

  • Rebounding. Ole Miss doesn't have a single player that's 6'10 or taller. The Rebels do have three rotation players that top out at 6'9, but the Commodores should still have the edge on the interior thanks to the back-to-back play of seven-footers Jones and Luke Kornet. George Mason rode its height advantage inside to a +15 rebounding advantage. The Patriots cleaned up 36 percent of their own misses but only turned that into six second-chance points.
  • Make Sam Finley and Martavious Newby shoot. Ole Miss's upperclassman guards have been inefficient scorers in 2015-16. Their performance against George Mason was no different. Together, they combined to make five of their 19 shots and just one of eight three-pointers. Finley has made just 36.5 percent of his field goals this season. Newby has been even worse. If the Commodores can goad them into taking the bulk of Mississippi's shots, they'll have plenty of opportunities to turn Rebel possessions into zero-point affairs.
  • Balanced backcourt scoring. George Mason's top four guards combined to score 43 points and made 50 percent of their three-point attempts. Those are numbers that a Vanderbilt team loaded with backcourt talent can replicate. Of course, they'll need Riley LaChance to snap out of his recent slump to get there.