Ole Miss @ Alabama: Game Preview

The Crimson Tide basketball team will return home from a disappointing two-game road trip when they host the Ole Miss Rebels in a late-season SEC West showdown in Tuscaloosa's Coleman Coliseum on Saturday afternoon. The Tide will be looking to avenge an earlier loss to the Rebels in Oxford, where Bama gave up a 23-point second-half lead en route to falling 74-67 in one of the most disappointing losses in a season that has seen far too many of them.

Tip-off is set for 1:00 p.m. local time, and a few tickets remain on sale here. This is Alabama's next-to-last home game, and last for which tickets remain on sale (the Auburn game next weekend is sold out), so if you haven't seen the Tide in person yet this season, this is your chance. For those who can't make it to the game, it will be televised nationally by ESPN2.

Now 14-13 on the season (4-9 in SEC play), the Tide has lost all realistic hope of qualifying for post-season play. However, Alabama has a realistic shot of snagging the #3 seed in the SEC West, which would put us in a fairly good position for the upcoming SEC tournament. To do so, we need to outperform both Ole Miss and Auburn over the last three games of the regular season, very possible since we play both at home during that stretch. Most importantly though, closing strong would be great for the program heading into the off-season, for building both confidence in the returning players and momentum heading into recruiting.

Ole Miss meanwhile comes in looking to stay on the proverbial NCAA bubble. The Rebels have spent the majority of the season as a projected tournament team, even holding a ranking for several weeks in the middle of the season, while racking up a solid 18-9 overall record. They have a very good non-conference resume, but a recent run of  losses has left them only 6-7 in a relatively weak SEC West, leaving their tournament hopes in serious jeopardy. They are still considered a bubble team, but if they want to stay that way, they must win in Tuscaloosa on Saturday.

Continue reading after the jump for more on the Ole Miss Rebels and the keys to an Alabama victory...

Since we've already seen Ole Miss this season and I've already previewed their team, I will paste below in italics my original game preview, while adding new comments below each paragraph specific to Saturday's game in Tuscaloosa.

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The Rebels are led by perhaps the best three-guard starting lineup in the SEC. Leading Ole Miss in conference play is junior point guard Chris Warren. Warren leads the team in scoring in conference play by a wide margin, with 16.1 points per game. He is also the team's best 3-point shooter, making over 3.3 treys per game while shooting at 44% from beyond the arc--quite remarkable by any measure. In addition, he is second on the team in assists at exactly 3.0 per game in conference play. Despite his listed 5'10" frame, he is the Rebels' top playmaker, so Bama will have to keep him contained throughout the game.

In the previous game, we kept Warren (and the rest of their team) completely frustrated during the first half, but then backed off in the second. We then saw first-hand what can happen if you relax on Warren or give him space. He burned us for 18 points in a single half--by far the best single-half performance by any opposing player we've faced all season. We must apply consistent, tight pressure to Warren for 40 minutes, or he will make us pay.

Sophomore guard Terrico White starts alongside Warren in the backcourt. After Warren went down early last season with a knee injury, White stepped into the point guard role and proceeded to carry the team as a freshman to a 7-9 mark in the SEC--quite a feat considering all that Ole Miss lost injury-wise last year. White is a solid all-around guard who is considered a future NBA player and scores 11.6 points per game this season in conference play while contributing a surprisingly high 5.5 rebounds per outing. He makes a little over one 3-pointer per game and also does a nice job getting to the free throw line. Again, he is a talented all-around player and as a 6'5" guard could provide some rebounding troubles for the Tide.

White actually didn't do all that much against us statistically in Oxford, but nevertheless his size and playmaking ability demand attention and he is the second-leading scorer on the team behind Warren, so we know he can score.

The third of the three excellent Ole Miss starting guards is junior Eniel Polynice. He leads the team in assists in conference play at 3.5 per game and also averages double figures in scoring at 11.0 points per outing. Although he has shown the ability to hit from deep in previous seasons, he actually hasn't made a 3-pointer in eight conference games so far, so Bama defenders may be able to give him some space on the outside. Still, like White, he is a 6'5" guard who can cause trouble on the boards and in penetrating to the basket. The primary player off the bench on the perimeter for the Rebels is junior guard Zach Graham. Despite coming off the bench, he averages 7.9 points per game and is a big threat from the arc. He actually started most of the season last year due to injuries and did a nice job. He would start for several SEC teams, including probably Alabama right now. Additional depth in the backcourt is provided by sophomore guard Trevor Gaskins.

Polynice and Graham both played their roles well against us in Oxford. We gave Polynice the space I suggested above, but he hurt us with his size and strength by cutting into the lane and breaking down the defense. He's a guy we have to be physical with away from the basket. Graham is a solid 3-point shooter, so like Warren we need to play him tight when he's in the game.

Although the Rebels have arguably the best backcourt in the conference, they aren't quite as strong in the post. They haven't had a consistent lineup down low during conference play, but sophomore forward Murhpy Holloway is a good bet to start. He plays the most minutes and scores the most points of any of the post players, and also leads the team with 6.6 rebounds per game to go along with his 7.4 points. At 6'7" however he may be a bit smaller than your typical SEC starting power forward. Senior forward DeAundre Cranston (4.9 points, 3.5 rebounds) and sophomore forward Terrence Henry (6.9 points, 3.1 rebounds) have split starts in the post, but neither averages as many minutes as freshman forward Reginald Buckner (5.8 points, 5.3 rebounds) who comes off the bench.

I think that paragraph sums up the Ole Miss frontcourt pretty well. None of the post players should be big threats, but Terrence Henry inexplicably abused us in Oxford, going off for 20 points and 8 rebounds (including 4 offensive boards). With Chris Hines now seeing more minutes and JaMychal Green doing a better job avoiding foul trouble (knock on wood), I can only hope that none of these guys sees double digits or grabs more than two offensive boards on us. If we are going to get beat, it better be Warren and the Ole Miss backcourt outscoring us and not the Ole Miss frontcourt getting easy looks. Offensively, the opportunity is there for Green to have a big game. The Rebel frontcourt won't provide near the opposition the MSU frontcourt did on Wednesday. Green had 18 points in the loss in Oxford, shooting 50% from the floor and getting to the foul line for 14 attempts. To me, those stats indicate that he needs to get the ball in his hands as often as possible on Saturday.

* * *

Overall, the biggest key to this game is our defensive intensity. For the first time all season, our defensive intensity let us down and cost us a game when we failed to compete on that end of the floor against Ole Miss in Oxford. Although this area has been the single biggest improvement in our team this year compared to previous years, we failed to show it in the second half against the Rebels and unfortunately we have slipped in this area a bit overall in both of our last two games, against Georgia and MSU. The only reason Ole Miss was able to overcome that 23-point deficit against us was because we allowed them to get to the free throw line an astounding 29 times in the second half. This was a direct result of us sitting back on defense and allowing them to take the ball at us. We can not allow the Ole Miss guards to break us down like that and draw fouls. If we can be physical with them, keep the intensity level high, and force them to shoot over us, there's no reason we can't beat this team. Roll Tide.

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