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Bama Basketball Breakdown: Ole Miss

The Crimson Tide kick off conference play

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

With all eyes on the Alabama football team this week, the Crimson Tide basketball squad has been a bit overlooked. However, Avery Johnson's group will be gearing up for a big time game of their own on Thursday night, as the Tide begin SEC play in Oxford against the Ole Miss Rebels (10-3, 0-1 SEC). Ole Miss opened up conference play this past Saturday, and it didn't end well for the Rebels, as they got hammered by the Kentucky Wildcats in Lexington. They have had a solid season thus far, as far as results are concerned, losing only twice in non-conference play. But the truth is that this may be Andy Kennedy's weakest team in some time.

After defeating the BYU Cougars in one of the NCAA Tournament's most exciting battles last March, the Rebels went out with a thud against the Xavier Musketeers. Regardless, this was a very good team last season, and they showed that when they came to Coleman Coliseum and bounced the Tide 82-74 right before the SEC Tournament began. However, the Rebels lost a lot of experience from that group, including Jarvis Summers, LaDarius White, M.J. Rhett, and Dwight Coleby. Ole Miss has been looking to find replacements for those four guys, but it's been a difficult journey thus far. Still, this is a solid team with the potential to make some noise, and they will be favored at home against a young Tide squad.

The Roster

Starting Line-up

  • PG 5'10 Stefan Moody (23.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 4.1 APG, 1.5 SPG)
  • OG 6'3 Martavious Newby (6.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.6 SPG)
  • 3G 6'5 Rasheed Brooks (7.2 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.1 SPG)
  • SF 6'9 Tomasz Gielo (8.9 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.4 APG)
  • PF 6'9 Sebastian Saiz (11.7 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 1.2 BPG)
Ole Miss may have lost a number of their main contributors from last season, but thankfully for the Rebs (and, really, the conference in general), they were able to hold on to one of the most electrifying players in the SEC, Stefan Moody. Moody has continued to be the high volume shooter for Ole Miss (at 17.0 FGAs per game, he's averaging twice as many attempted shots per game than the next most, Saiz) but he's become more efficient (42.1% FG%, 36.1% 3P%) and has really become a one-man wrecking crew on offense. Newby and Brooks have been solid, but they are both struggling to knock down shots from the perimeter (Newby: 21.4% 3P%, Brooks: 31.1% 3P%) and from the line (Newby: 64.6% FT%, Brooks: 58.8%), which has made their backcourt overly reliant on Moody offensively. Defensively, all three guys average over a steal per game, and are pretty average defenders. Also, Newby is pretty good at collecting rebounds for a 6'3 guard.

In the post, where, despite high flying scorers like Moody, Jarvis Summers, and Marshall Henderson, Andy Kennedy's clubs have really built their foundation on over the years, the Rebels have two strong players. Saiz has really grown into a very good post player, as his nearly double-double average would suggest. He is by far the best defender on the team(1.2 BPG, 94.5 DRtg), but he is also the best rebounder. This combination, combined with his 52.7% FG%, make him arguably the most important player on the team. Gielo, the senior transfer from Liberty, has quickly found a nice niche in Oxford as a stretch forward. His shooting ability (32.7% 3P%, 85.7% FT%) has been a nice addition to the team, especially when combined with his 6'9 frame. However, his defense and ability to crash the boards both still need work.

The Bench
  • G 6'2 Sam Finley (5.8 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 0.5 APG, 0.6 SPG)
  • G 6'2 J.T. Escobar (1.8 PPG, 0.6 APG)
  • F 6'9 Anthony Perez (6.0 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.6 SPG)
  • F 6'6 Marcanvis Hymon (5.6 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 1.2 BPG)
As with most teams that see a lot of attrition during a single offseason, the Rebels have experienced a lack of quality depth this year. Finley is really the only guard who makes a significant impact off of the bench, and he isn't anything to write home about. His 13.3% 3P%, 62.9% FT%, and 1-to-2 assist to turnover ratio don't exactly inspire a ton of confidence when he has the ball. Perez and Hymon provide a nice second wave of post players for Ole Miss though. Perez is a seasoned veteran who doesn't do anything particularly well, but he is solid-to-mediocre in most areas. Hymon, only a true freshman, has a good chance at becoming the next strong post player to anchor Kennedy's program in the future.

What to Watch For

  • Shannon Hale's Injury. Hale was limited in his first appearance for Alabama since the battle with Clemson this past Saturday, and it was obvious he still wasn't at 100%. Hale's a big key to Alabama's offense this season, and the Crimson Tide need him back on his 'A'-game as SEC play begins.
  • The Pavilion. Ole Miss is debuting their brand new arena on Thursday night, and it is beautiful. Click here for some pictures of the Rebels' new home in Oxford.

Three Keys to Victory

  1. Limit and Frustrate Moody. The best way to beat Ole Miss is to force Moody into a bad night. Moody can be a very erratic player at times, especially when he is frustrated. As explained earlier in the article, he is the key to the Ole Miss offense. Avery Johnson has shown that he can draw up a great game-plan defensively. Can he find a way to get to Moody?
  2. Pack the Paint. The Rebels are one of the worst shooting teams in the country, as they rank 309th in the NCAA in 3P% at 30.5%, and it's only that high because of Moody, really. However, they are pretty good at getting to the rim, so it is imperative that Alabama pack in tight and force Ole Miss to take outside shots.
  3. Draw Contact. Defensively, Ole Miss is pretty average across the board. They look to force opponents to either take low percentage shots outside or make them really work for it in the paint. The one way this can backfire for the Rebels is that they lack serious depth. Alabama needs to get good drives and cuts to the basket to draw contact from their defenders. If Ole Miss starts to get into foul trouble, it could be a long night for the home team, because there is quite a drop-off from Moody and Saiz to their back-ups.
This is a massive game for Alabama. Not only is it the opening game in conference play, but with a five game stretch that follows this game consisting of Kentucky, South Carolina, at Vanderbilt, at Auburn, and LSU, the Tide are looking at a rough start to SEC play. Ole Miss has always been solid under Kennedy, and that hasn't changed this season. But they are not nearly as good as they were last year, and the Tide have a very good shot at starting off on the right foot in 2016.

The game will tip-off at 8:00 PM CST and will be televised on ESPNU.