As yet another college basketball season winds to an end, Alabama will honor the 2015 senior class in Tuscaloosa on Tuesday night with one final regular season home game. The opponent this season is the Ole Miss Rebels (19-10, 10-6 SEC), who are currently on pretty solid footing as far as the NCAA Tournament is concerned. The Rebels have been led by stellar guard play this season, and they are looking to grab one of the top four seeds and a double bye in the SEC Tournament in Nashville next week. Andy Kennedy's club is coming off back-to-back losses last week, after losing hard fought games to fellow NCAA Tournament hopefuls Georgia and LSU, so they will be looking to bounce back for a solid road win in this one. Hopefully, Levi Randolph, Rodney Cooper, and the Crimson Tide will knock Ole Miss down closer to the cut line for the tourney.
- PG Jarvis Summers (12.4 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 4.6 APG, 0.8 SPG)
- SG Stefan Moody (16.4 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.7 SPG)
- 3G Martavious Newby (3.8 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.1 SPG)
- PF Sebastian Saiz (7.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 0.9 BPG)
- C M.J. Rhett (6.8 PPG, 4.8 RPG)
Ole Miss has found a lot of success on the offensive end of the court this season, ranking 56th in the country in PPG. A major reason for that has been the tremendous play of the back court. Moody has been sensational this season, and he is truly one of the most exciting players in college basketball. He's an electrifying, erratic play maker, and he's known to throw up all kinds of shots. Ole Miss just loved that Marshall Henderson persona too much to not have someone similar to him take over (minus the whole attitude part). Moody has similar shooting numbers to what Henderson had (39.9% FG%, 36.4% 3P%), with the exception of the ridiculous free throw percentage (91.2%). Another major difference is that Moody can really drive to the basket, and thus, he finds himself going to the line and knocking down freebies pretty often. His 1.7 SPG ranks near the top of the SEC, and he can rebound decently well. At the point, Summers has had a little bit of a down year, really dropping off as a shooter (34.6% FG%, 25.7% 3P%, 74.3% FT%) and dealing with a bunch of nagging injuries. However, the senior guard has still had a great impact on this team, averaging 4.6 APG to only 2.0 TOPG, and providing a calming veteran presence to balance out Moody's hectic play. At the other off guard position, Newby brings the ability to hit shots (40.0% FG%), force turnovers, and rebound as well as any 6'3 guard around. His 80.0% free throw shooting has also been a great asset.
In the front court, the Rebels have gotten solid production out of their two 6'9 forwards, Saiz and Rhett. Saiz is an efficient scorer around the basket (60.1% FG%) and can rebound and block shots at a decent rate. Rhett scores at a solid clip himself (54.2% FG%), giving Ole Miss a couple of post players who can finish around the rim. Saiz is one of the better defenders on the team, and Rhett uses his big frame to bang around in the post.
- G LaDarius "Snoop" White (10.7 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.8 SPG)
- G Terence Smith (4.2 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 1.8 APG)
- F Aaron Jones (3.1 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 2.4 BPG)
- F Anthony Perez (2.9 PPG, 2.0 RPG)
- C Dwight Coleby (5.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 0.8 BPG)
Another reason why Ole Miss has been so successful this season is because they are one of the few teams in the SEC that can go ten-deep. White is your prototypical scoring sixth man: he can shoot (40.2% FG%, 39.1% 3P%, 73.4% FT%) and rebound, but he's also a bit of a liability defensively. Smith adds experience and depth in the back court, and has been a pretty reliable scorer in his own right (40.0% FG%, 36.2% 3P%, 73.7% FT%), albeit at a smaller volume. The Rebs have three other 6'9 post players that make up their bench, which really underscores the depth this team has. Jones has been sensational as a back-up role player. He's shooting 45.5% from the field and 90.0% from the free throw line. His defense is also the best on the team, as he makes a ridiculous 4.0 impact plays a game, despite averaging only about 13 MPG. Coleby is a sophomore with a lot of promise, shooting 55.8% from the field and 82.1% from the charity stripe. Finally, Perez gives Ole Miss yet another solid front court body with plenty of length.
This year's Senior Night festivities will honor Levi Randolph, Rodney Cooper, and Dakota Slaughter prior to the game on Tuesday. Although this class will leave Alabama with only one NCAA Tournament appearance, these guys have always worked hard and given it their all, and for that they will be remembered fondly in the future. Randolph will go down as one of the more underrated players in Alabama history. A contributor since his freshman season, Levi really came into his own this year, leading the Tide in nearly every offensive category. He broke 1,000 career points earlier this season, and is currently fourth all-time in number of games played in Crimson and White. He is four games shy of breaking Trevor Releford's 134 appearances for most in school history. His 139 career steals places him 10th in the all-time Alabama record books. On top of all of the on the court success, he also became the first basketball player in Alabama history to be an Academic All-American.
Rodney Cooper, much like his good buddy Levi, has been getting significant playing time since he first step foot on campus. His improvement in three point shooting this season (39.2%) was a huge boon for an Alabama offense that really struggled to create opportunities. Coop also broke the 1,000 point mark recently, as he now stands at 1,045 points all-time. Another important factor Rodney brought was his ability to rebound the basketball, as he is now seven boards away from 500 in his career. He actually led the team in rebounding last season, and his ability to hit the glass was desperately needed for a program that has struggled to get good rebounding numbers from the true post players lately.
Lastly, Dakota Slaughter has to be one of the more successful walk-ons the program has seen in some time. Originally a regular student with an academic scholarship, Slaughter walked on to the team and eventually was awarded an athletic scholarship from Anthony Grant. He's always been a high character guy for this program, as all three of these guys have, and it's important to remember how much it means that Alabama is grooming first class young men.
Three Keys to Victory
- Avoid Fouls. Ole Miss is one of the best free throw shooting teams in the country, and it is a major reason why they are 56th in scoring despite only shooting 42.8% from the floor. The Rebels are 4th in the nation from the line, knocking down the free ones at an incredible 77.5% rate. Just as importantly though, they know how good they are from the line, and they use that as a major key to their offense. Kennedy's group knows that a trip to the free throw line usually results in the maximum amount of points possible, so they don't play timidly when they have the ball. It is imperative that Alabama keep Ole Miss away from the free throw line in this one. To add to that, with Shannon Hale expected out again, Alabama is short on bodies. They don't need anyone getting into foul trouble.
- Crash the Boards. The Rebels have a huge advantage when it comes to their ability to rebound. They have a ton of size and depth in the front court, and even guys like Newby and Moody can rebound really well for guards. Alabama will need to sell out on the glass, because it could otherwise get ugly. Jimmie Taylor and Michael Kessens have to hold their own. It would be nice to see Coop get rebound #500 in this one as well, as the Tide could really use his assistance in this category. If Alabama can keep it close to even on the boards, they have a chance to pull off the upset.
- Drive on the Guards. Andy Kennedy's team has struggled at times defensively this season, especially in the back court. Their guards are all very effective offensive players, but their defense is a bit lacking. Randolph and Retin Obasohan, who has really elevated his play lately, will be crucial in this game. Both guys can drive to the basket, and Levi is an excellent mid-range shooter. Alabama will need a good night from these two guys, though Cooper, Justin Coleman, and Riley Norris should have some favorable match-ups as well.
Senior Night is always an emotional experience that can lead to some inspired performances. Look no further than Trevor Releford's final outing in Tuscaloosa last season, when the Crimson Tide helped knock Arkansas out of the NCAA Tournament discussion with a decisive victory. A repeat performance from Levi, Coop, Dakota, and the rest of the guys would be a nice way to wrap up what has been a long career for Alabama's three seniors.
The game tips-off at 6:00 PM CST and will be televised by the SEC Network.