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Lots on the line as Tide travels to Oxford

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The Crimson Tide basketball team will travel to Oxford, Mississippi for a Saturday afternoon game against the Ole Miss Rebels. Tip-off is scheduled for 3:00 CST, with the game being televised regionally on the SEC Network and streamed world-wide by ESPN3.

While this game is not an absolute, lock-down, 100% must-win in the way the Auburn game was (thanks to Ole Miss having an RPI in the top 100), the implications of this game are nevertheless tremendous. With both an SEC Championship and an NCAA Tournament berth on the line for the Tide, both will either become much more realistic, or much less realistic depending on how Saturday's game turns out.

With a win, Bama can put itself potentially just one win away from an SEC title, as was explained here earlier today. A road win over a top-100 RPI team would also move Bama closer to an NCAA at-large bid, perhaps close enough that one more big win might do the trick. With a loss, Bama would find itself in the very unwanted position of probably needing to beat a top-15 Florida team on their home court next Tuesday just to keep its SEC Championship and NCAA Tournament hopes alive. The Tide wants to avoid that if at all possible, and so this game Saturday is huge.

Alabama and Ole Miss met just two weeks ago in Coleman Coliseum. The Tide raced out to a 20-point halftime lead but then had to hold on in the final two minutes as the Rebels steadily ate into the lead in the second half, holding on for a key 74-64 win. The Tide had probably its best offensive half of the season against a shaky Ole Miss defense, but then the Rebels' offense showed how dangerous they could be in the second half.

Against an Ole Miss team that has been hot and cold this season, it's really hard to say what to expect from Saturday's game. In fact, the two team's meeting from two weeks ago was pretty much a microcosm of Ole Miss's season: they looked like a lost mediocre-to-weak team at times during the game, but showed flashes of being very dangerous at other times. It's hard to say who is the second-best team in the West right now, but many still believe it to be the Ole Miss Rebels. Playing in a building where the Tide hasn't had tremendous success in the last two decades against a team that is capable of playing at a very high level, Bama will need its focus and execution to be a significantly higher levels than it has been the last three games in order to leave Oxford with a crucial SEC win.

Full Ole Miss roster breakdown and game analysis below the jump....

Note: this info is from our preview two weeks ago. Presumably the stats haven't changed much since.

Anyone who's followed SEC basketball the last few seasons already knows all about Ole Miss point guard Chris Warren. The 5'10" senior has been among the top scorers in the league for three years now, and he's not disappointing in his last go-round. Right now he is second in the SEC in scoring (just behind Vandy's Jenkins) with 18.7 points per game this season. He is also tied for third in the SEC in assists with 3.8 per game. Clearly, Warren's stats speak for themselves, but beyond just the raw numbers he puts up, it's fairly safe to say that no team in the conference depends so much on one player as does Ole Miss with Warren. Despite his small size, he makes everything happen for the Rebs, whether it's creating his own shot--either by pulling up from deep or driving to the rim--or by breaking down defenses and dumping off to teammates, or by drawing fouls.

Warren attempts more 3-pointers than any player in the league, averaging 7.7 shots per game from beyond the arc--many from well beyond the arc. If he gets even a modicum of space, he's letting it fly, and when he doesn't get space, he'll either create his own or simply pull up several feet behind the arc. His percentage isn't overwhelming (35%) but it's high enough to justify his attempts and force defenders to come out and respect him, not to mention high enough for him to average nearly 3 made treys each game. Warren also leads the SEC in free throw percentage with an unbelievable average of 95% from the stripe--particularly dangerous since Warren draws a lot of fouls (4.9 attempts each game). Warren is one of those players where you just have to assume he's going to "get his". The real key is to keep him out of the lane and force him to take bad shots. Basically the old saying of "you can't stop him, so you just have to hope to contain him" applies here.

The Rebels' second-leading scorer is 6'6" senior wing player Zach Graham, who averages 14.3 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. Graham is your traditional wing player with prototypical small forward size and skills. He's capable of hurting you from deep, as evidenced by his averaging 1.0 made treys each outing (at a 31% rate). Graham's biggest strength, though, is using his size as a "slasher" by cutting into the lane. This ability allows him to draw a lot of fouls, score around the rim, and break down defenses to get the offense going.

The third starter in the Rebel backcourt is 6'4" sophomore guard Nick Williams, an Alabama native who transferred after playing one year at Indiana. Williams averages 7.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.6 assists each game. He isn't great at creating his own shot, but he's a decent all-around guard on each end, capable of scoring when getting the chance. The best comparison is probably with Alabama's Steele in terms of size, skills, and what he brings to the team.

Starting at one forward spot in the post is 6'9" sophomore Reginald Buckner, the third-leading shot-blocker in the SEC. Buckner is extremely athletic for his size, making him a great defender and a formidable rebounder. His biggest weakness is his lack of shooting touch--he only hits 39% of his free throw attempts--but he still gets position around the rim enough to get plenty of dunk and put-back opportunities. He averages 7.4 points per game and leads the team in both rebounds (6.6 per game) and blocks (3.1 per game). Buckner will be a tough matchup for Green in the post.

The other starter in the frontcourt for the Rebs is 6'10" junior center Terrance Henry. Henry is third on the team in scoring with 8.8 points per game and second in rebounding with 5.8 boards per game. Henry isn't a quick as Buckner, but he has better shooting touch and is a more polished offensive player. He will also have a size advantage, as the tallest player in the Bama rotation is only 6'8".

The Rebels enjoy a fairly deep bench that features some talented newcomers. The one experienced bench player in the rotation is 6'2" junior guard Trevor Gaskins, who started several games earlier in the year. Gaskins has some impressive numbers for a player who comes off the bench: 7.2 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. The Rebels don't lose much when Gaskins comes in as their sixth man. The other guard who plays regularly off the bench is highly recruited (4-star, top-100 national prospect) freshman Dundrecous Nelson, who averages 6.4 points and 1.4 assists per game. Both Gaskins and Nelson are good shooters, each averaging right at one made trey per game while each shooting over 34% from the arc.

Two more newcomers provide depth in the post. 6'9" JuCo transfer Steadman Short is the first post player off the bench. He isn't a big scoring threat, but he has good size and is a pretty good rebounder. He averages 3.4 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. Another highly recruited (4-star, top-100 national prospect) freshman, Demarco Cox, sees regular action as a reserve in the post, though his minutes and numbers have been fairly limited.

Not surprisingly, given the talented scoring guards that the Rebels have on hand, they are a very strong offensive team. They rank 41st in the nation in overall offensive efficiency, behind only Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Florida in the SEC. No one component of their offense stands out as particularly strong, but their effective shooting rate, turnover rate and offensive rebounding rate are all very solid. Their one weakness is their free throw attempt rate, which ranks 282nd nationally. Essentially, aside from Warren and Graham, they don't draw many fouls, so hopefully for once we don't have to worry about getting outscored from the free throw line. Still, Ole Miss's offense will very much challenge our defense in the other major components. They are a good offensive rebounding team, they don't turn the ball over a lot, and they are a good shooting team with at least three players on the floor at all times capable of draining from the arc. We'll need one of our trademark defensive efforts in this one.

Ole Miss isn't quite so strong on the defensive end, though. They rank 144th in the nation in overall defensive efficiency, ahead of only Mississippi State and Auburn within the SEC. Their biggest weaknesses come in creating turnovers and in allowing free throws, two categories where they rank in the bottom half of the country. Their biggest strengths on defense are their defensive rebounding rate, which is the 4th best in the SEC, and their block rate, which is 14th best in the nation. Alabama needs to be aggressive on the offensive end at attacking the rim. They are a good blocking team, but they also foul a lot and in general they have one of the weaker defenses in the conference. Given the offensive strength of this Ole Miss team, we'll need to score consistently in this one to win.

In the first meeting, the Bama defense was able to hold Warren without a field goal until the game's final minutes. However, the other Rebel guards, particularly Nelson, started lighting it up in the second half. The Tide will need another heroic performance against Warren this time to prevent the Ole Miss offense from getting going. With the explosiveness of the Rebel offense, Bama can ill afford any major defensive lapses on the road, and must avoid fouling, especially when it comes to Warren.

The biggest key, I believe, is how effectively Bama executes on the offensive end. Ole Miss is likely to throw some zone at us for at least part of the game, and the Tide needs to attack it efficiently. Ole Miss is not a great defensive team, so we need to be aggressive in attacking the rim and making things happen. In the first meeting, the Rebels blocked several shots early on, but Bama kept attacking the rim and essentially broke down the Ole Miss defense in the first half. If Bama can keep that up for two halves, it will put a lot of pressure on the Ole Miss offense and could take the crowd out of the game. Speaking of the crowd, hopefully it will be a small, lazy gathering given Ole Miss's lost postseason hopes and their current losing skid.

As the title of this article suggests, there is a lot riding on this game for the Tide. The players and coaching staff need to bring everything they have and come out ready to play like everything rides on this game, because, to a large extent, it does.

 

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