The Crimson Tide basketball team will try once again to recover from a heartbreaking loss as they travel to Oxford to face the #25 Ole Miss Rebels on Saturday.
Tip-off is set for 5 p.m. local time and Bama fans in the area can buy tickets to the game here in an effort to minimize the Ole Miss home court advantage. The game will be televised by Fox Sports throughout the Southeast. Those outside the Southeast or without access to FSN can watch the game online at ESPN360.com.
Alabama is trying to bounce back from extremely disappointing one-point losses at the buzzer to Auburn and Florida in back-to-back games. Bama is currently 13-9 on the season and 3-5 in SEC play. Although everyone knew this was going to be a big rebuilding year for first-year coach Anthony Grant, the fact that the Crimson Tide has probably lost more second-half leads than any team in the country adds to the sting of nine losses already accumulated this season. Bama of course is seeking to get back to the NCAA tournament after a three-year hiatus, but the two recent losses have probably relegated the Tide to hoping for an NIT bid at this point, which really wouldn't be a bad way to end a rebuilding year.
Ole Miss is likewise trying to find their way back to the NCAA tournament, after a very long seven-year wait. Coach Andy Kennedy is in his fourth year at the helm, and after restoring the Rebels to credibility in his first two seasons as head coach, he found himself faced with an unexpected rash of injuries last season in what many Ole Miss fans hoped would be their return to the Big Dance. Instead, Kennedy is hoping his now-healthy squad this season will return Ole Miss to the tournament, and every indication points that this will be the case. Other than last season (where two of their top players suffered season-ending injuries early on) this is probably the most talented Ole Miss team since their last NCAA appearance. Ole Miss will bring a #25 ranking in the AP poll to the matchup against the Tide and are currently projected as a #10 seed in the NCAA tournament according to ESPN's latest bracketology projection. They are 16-6 on the season but only 4-4 in SEC play.
Read below the jump for more on the Ole Miss Rebels...
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.
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.
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.
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.
This will be the most dangerous group of opposing guards Alabama has faced perhaps all season. Our lack of depth will certainly be put to the test but it could be a good gauge of where our perimeter defense stands against elite guards. Our best hope of winning comes in the form of our post players. If we can get the ball down low early and often to Green and Knox we may be able to hang around long enough to keep things tight. The cynical Alabama fan might say that they'd rather just get beat by double digits at this point and be done with it. After all, most of us can't handle any more close losses. Still, if you can keep things close until late, you always have a chance to win. Unfortunately for us, we've lost 7 of the 11 games we've played this year where the game was within one possession in the final minute or two. If you want to be an optimist, that means we're due some close wins if we can just continue to stay alive in games with our defense.
I said earlier that to win just one of the following two road games against ranked teams would make for a successful trip. A win would indeed be a big step--and would in fact tie us with Ole Miss at 4-5 in the league--but no road win comes easy (see Arkansas and Auburn) and Ole Miss is a ranked team to boot.
Let's just hope that our players come out loose and focused on Saturday and play hard. If they do there's no reason we can't keep it close and cash in on one of the close wins that karma owes us.