Alabama Basketball Preview: Ole Miss Rebels/Black Bears

Kelly Lambert-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama follows up their surprising upset of Missouri with a trip to Oxford

Honestly, I really just don't what happened Saturday night. Right when I had finally written this team off and declared the Anthony Grant era over, Alabama had its best showing of the season. Let me tell you, I was not upset by that revelation in the slightest. However, tis only one game. The Crimson Tide now have to head back out on the dark, dreary road, where all hopes and dreams of roundball grandeur go to die. If Alabama somehow manages to pull off a road victory over a solid, but streaky, Ole Miss (16-11, 7-7 SEC) team, they will have won me back over. For the time being at least.

Last time the Rebels and Tide met, Trevor Releford hit a beautiful game winning three to slide a sharp, steely dagger right into the heart of Ole Miss's NCAA Tournament dreams. The Rebs almost made up for it against Florida on Saturday, but almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

Roger filled in for me the last time these two teams played, and wrote an excellent piece. Here's a few of the key excerpts:

Any discussion of Ole Miss has to begin with their controversial star Marshall Henderson. Henderson took the SEC by storm last year, and has continued to do so once again this year. Despite many, many run-ins with the law and authority, Henderson has managed to stay on the court, and leads the Rebels with a 19.6 point per game scoring average. Although Henderson has been for suspended for three games (so far) this year, he has hoisted 335 shots, 239 of which have been from three point range. His field goal percentage is a lowly .375, and .372 from three point range. Rather than a pure shooter he has to be considered a scorer. Henderson may start a game 0-15, but he will not shy away from shooting and can heat up and hit six or eight in a row at any moment. His backcourt mate Jarvis Summers is the only other Rebel in double figures, and averages 17.4 points per game. Summers is a much better shooter by average, with a .504 field goal percentage, and a even 50% from three point range. Ladarius White contributes 8.3 points per game. This is a game where 'Bama might actually match up fairly well inside. Aaron Jones leads in rebounds with 7.1 per game, and chips in 6.7 points per game. Sebastian Saiz grabs 6.3 boards per game and scores at a 5.2 point clip.

When studying Ole Miss' statistics their record seems to be the product of smoke and mirrors The Rebels only shoot 43% from the field, and 37% from three point range, and 69.6 from the free throw line. Ole Miss is being out rebounded on the season 39.9 to 37.0 boards per game. On the other hand, 'Bama shoots at a .445 clip, .326 from three and .703 from the free throw line. The Tide averages 33.3 rebounds per game, while allowing 34.3 to their opponents. The statistics match up fairly evenly, but obviously the records do not.

Roger's analysis tended to show that these two teams were actually a lot more even than what the records indicated and, even though Alabama continued to struggle until Saturday night, Ole Miss started to show some regression to the mean, landing a lot closer to where Alabama currently is.

Henderson (19.5 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.5 SPG) is pretty much the same player we all know and hate. He's going to chunk up a bunch of shots, mostly from three (36.7%) and mostly not knocking them down (36.8%). But since nearly all of his attempts are of the three point variety, he doesn't necessarily HAVE to hit most of them. He's also shooting 81.8% from the free throw line, though he doesn't do much else except steal the ball at a pretty high rate.

Summers (17.1 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.0 SPG) is honestly the Rebels' best player. As Roger pointed out, he's actually a much more efficient shooter (49.7% FG%, 47.1% 3P%, 77.3% FT%), he plays better defense, and his ability to pass and rebound are much greater than Henderson's. He's really been the unsung hero of the team.

White (7.6 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.8 SPG) has actually cooled off slightly over the past two weeks, but he is still a solid player. His shooting could use some work though (38.0% FG%, 31.0% 3P%, 67.7% FT%).

Derrick Millinghaus (7.2 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.1 SPG), a Sophomore G, has struggled a good bit this year, but he is still one of the better options off of the bench for Ole Miss. His shooting has been disappointing (34.7% FG%, 26.0% 3P%, 62.5% FT%) for Rebels fans that saw him take over the SEC Quarterfinal game against Missouri last season. His size (5'10) limits his ability to rebound or play defense, so his struggles shooting have greatly diminished his ability to contribute positive minutes for Ole Miss.

Martavious Newby (2.1 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.9 SPG), another Sophomore G, doesn't see many minutes, but he is actually a pretty efficient scorer (53.6% FG%, 40.0% 3P%).

Jones (6.3 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 2.2 BPG) has been a force for Ole Miss on the glass and on defense, but his offense is pretty average (42.1% FG%). He can knock down his free ones though (70.7%).

Saiz (4.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.9 BPG) has seen his numbers decline as SEC play as gone along, but he is still a freshman with good potential.

Anthony Perez (7.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.6 BPG), a Sophomore F, is their best offensive player in the frontcourt (43.8% FG%, 37.7% 3P%, 70.9% FT%) and plays both close to and away from the rim.

Demarco Cox (4.3 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 0.9 BPG), Senior C, gets good minutes off of the bench and plays fairly well in the traditional backup post player role.

Three Four Keys to Victory

1. Stop the slow starts! In the last five games 'Bama has been outscored 42-0 before posting their first point of the game. A 0-6 start versus Arkansas has been the smallest deficit the team has faced before finally scoring. Many times the deficit is forged with out the Tide getting off a shot. Shooting earlier in the shot clock when open may be one remedy.

2. Rebound! The Tide hasn't won the rebound battle in a game since January 15th when they out boarded the Mississippi State Bulldogs. When 'Bama out rebounds the opposition the record is 7-1. Conversely the Tide is 2-13 when being out rebounded.

3. Hit the three! When Cooper and or Hale are hitting from outside it helps Releford so much, giving him more open looks, not only from three, but also room to drive the lane. Releford arguably is the best in the country at getting to the rim and finishing, despite being under 6 feet tall.

Disclaimer: I know I said I wouldn't continue with this section anymore, but after watching Levi Randolph, Trevor Releford, and the rest of the guys continue to give their best efforts, I decided that I was wrong in writing them off, and will continue forth with the Keys to Victory.

Roger's three keys still stand: Alabama definitely needs to avoid the early holes they keep digging themselves into on the road, rebounding is still one of the Tide's major weaknesses (and really wasn't much better against Missouri), and knocking down the trey is the main reason why Alabama was able to beat Missouri on Saturday. I wanted to throw in one additional key as well:

4. Force Henderson to Miss His Shots. Saying that Ole Miss relies heavily on Henderson might be an understatement. The guy has the biggest green light I have ever seen for a college basketball player, and he takes advantage of it. Henderson averages a ridiculous 15.8 FGAs a game. The Rebels will go as far as Henderson takes them, whether that's a good thing or not. As Roger said, he isn't the best shooter in the world, and is actually quite streaky. If Alabama can knock him out of his rhythm (which they did a pretty good job of last time, limiting him to 14 points on 4/15 shooting) he will drag the Rebels down with him. But if he gets hot at home...

The Trevor Releford Watch

S-E-C! P-O-Y! S-E-C! P-O-Y! T Relly just continues to amaze. In a game where Levi Randolph went off, and Releford left early in the game with an injury (which he did return from fairly shortly), Trevor still managed a cool 18 points on 7/12 shooting, 6 assists, and a pair of rebounds and steals. He is now 5th in the SEC in points (19.0 PPG), 1st in steals (2.2 SPG), and 3rd in Adjusted FG% (60.7%) behind only Florida's Casey Prather and Michael Frazier.

History in the Making. Releford's now also alone in 7th place at 1,793 career points. He is 20 points behind James Robinson (1991-93) for 6th.

Alabama is still having a pretty miserable season, but at least the big win Saturday has stirred up a little bit of positive momentum and good vibrations in Tuscaloosa. Hopefully we will see that continue to roll on. But the road has been a cruel mistress to Alabama this season. The game is set to tip-off at 7:00 pm CST and will be carried exclusively on ESPN3, unfortunately.
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