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Bama Basketball Breakdown: Ole Miss

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Alabama looks to send its seniors out with a win on Senior Night

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

With nothing much left to play for other than pride and development of the younger guys on the roster, Alabama will look to close out the home schedule with a win over the Ole Miss Rebels (18-11, 9-7 SEC) on Wednesday night. Well, maybe there is something to play for, as the Tide and Rebels are currently tied for 5th place in the conference, but all hopes of a possible appearance in the NCAA Tournament rest on this offensively-inept Tide team somehow running off a few wins in a row and stunning everyone by winning the SEC Tournament, which seems unlikely. Regardless, the Tide and the Rebels will lace them up, and Avery Johnson will do his best to send his seniors out on top for Senior Night.

Barring a potential home game in the NIT, this will be the last time Jimmie Taylor, Corban Collins, and Bola Olaniyan play a game in front of the home crowd in Coleman Coliseum. Hopefully all three can come out firing for this one, especially Taylor, the lone four-year player on the roster. He may not go down in the annals of great Alabama post players, but the lengthy center has had a nice little career at the Capstone. He’s always been a strong defender, but it was the development of his lefty hook shot that allowed him to become a true contributor to this program. He also gave the Tide a full four years of a steady presence both on and off the court, despite the coaching change that occured midway through his college career. Here’s to you Jimmie, best of luck to you in the future.

Olaniyan and Collins also should receive a warm applause from Tide fans, as they both made significant contributions to this year’s group. Olaniyan quickly became one of the best at crashing the glass in the SEC, particularly on the offensive end. Collins’ leadership in the back-court helped navigate the Tide through some rough waters early on in the season while the rest of this new-look squad gelled. He had a nice outing against Dayton and nearly willed the Tide to an upset victory late, and his career outing against his former team in Baton Rouge was a great moment for the graduate transfer. A big ‘Roll Tide’ for both of these gentlemen as well.

The Roster

Starting Line-Up

  • PG 6’3 Deandre Burnett (17.1 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.1 SPG)
  • SG 6’5 Cullen Neal (9.3 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 2.4 APG)
  • OG 6’4 Terence Davis (14.4 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.4 SPG)
  • PF 6’6 Justas Fermanavicius (6.3 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.7 SPG, 1.2 BPG)
  • PF 6’9 Sebastian Saiz (15.1 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.0 BPG)

Andy Kennedy’s team has really flown under the radar this year. Despite all of the talk about the talented young rosters led by newly hired coaches at places such as Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee, and the praise thrown on likely NCAA Tournament teams Kentucky, Florida, South Carolina, and Arkansas, the Rebels have quietly kept doing their thing in Oxford. Saiz may be the most underrated player in college basketball. The senior big man is the only player in the SEC to average a double-double this season: he’s 9th in the league in PPG and leads the SEC in rebounding by almost a full 3.0 RPG. Not to be completely outdone by Saiz, Burnett is 6th in the SEC in scoring and tied for 11th in APG.

Burnett’s not the most efficient scorer (35.1% FG%, 36.5% 3P%), but his 89.8% FT% is one of the best in the country. He’s the enforcer on offense for a reason. He’s not a very good defender (108.6 DRtg) and doesn’t do much of anything on the glass (3.9% RB%) though. Neal is a prototypical shooting guard. He’s shooting 40.0% from the floor, 40.6% from beyond the arc, and 85.5% from the free throw line. But he really doesn’t do much on the glass (4.0%) or on the defensive end (110.5 DRtg). Davis has to pick up a lot of the slack in those two areas (11.9% RB%, 99.9 DRtg) for the Ole Miss guards. He’s not too shabby on the offensive end himself either (46.7% FG%, 74.3% FT%).

Saiz has been putting in a quiet First Team All-SEC year for the Rebs, but he hasn’t been on his own in the post. Fermanavicius is shooting 49.2% from the field, as he plays inside-out from his position at the four. He also rebounds at a 10.5% clip. But those numbers just don’t compare to Saiz’s team-high 17.5% RB% and 99.8 DRtg.

The Bench

  • G 6’2 Breein Tyree (6.5 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 1.9 APG)
  • G 6’5 Rasheed Brooks (7.2 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.0 SPG)
  • F 6’6 Marcanvas Hymon (3.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 1.1 BPG)

Much like ‘Bama’s last opponent, Texas A&M, Ole Miss simply doesn’t have much depth on their roster. However, unlike the Aggies, the three guys who do play do provide quality minutes. Senior Rasheed Brooks one-ups even Burnett in the free throw shooting department (90.5%), and as a 37.9% scorer and decent defender, he has been a great sixth man for the Rebels. Hymon is not a good free throw shooter (42.9%), but as a 51.8% scorer and 11.5% rebounder, he is vitally important to Ole Miss. Tyree has given the Rebs some nice relief in the back-court, and he has shown flashes of real potential in his freshman campaign.

Three Keys to Victory

  1. Defend the Front-line. Ole Miss has been a strong offensive team this year (68th in KenPom’s Adjusted Offensive Efficiency), but they’ve done most of their damage on the interior. Between Saiz, Fermanavicius, and the Rebels’ plethora of guards that have a knack for getting to the rim, Kennedy’s team has made a living by attacking the basket. However, they don’t shoot well (10th in the SEC in FG% and 11th in 3P%). ‘Bama needs to make Ole Miss work for their shots in this one. Denying the ball in the post and preventing penetration into the paint via the dribble-drive will be vital if Alabama wants to get the victory. Strong defense is necessary, but the Tide doesn’t want to over-do it...
  2. Free Throws. ...and this is why. Ole Miss is one of the best free throw shooting teams in college basketball. They have made more free throw attempts than anybody in the country, and have done so at a team-wide 76.4% rate. Brooks, Burnett, and Neal, in particular, are dynamite from the line. Alabama, however, is the opposite (64.4%, 335th in the NCAA). The Crimson Tide can’t afford to go -19 from the charity stripe again like they did against A&M if they want to win this game.
  3. Rebounding. Alabama is very good on the glass, though. The SEC’s leading rebouding unit will need to come away with another solid winning margin tonight. Saiz will obviously present a major challenge in this regard, but ‘Bama has more length and depth across the board.

Ole Miss has a good basketball team, despite the lack of attention that they have received this year. The Rebels may even still have a shot at snagging one of the last available at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament if they can close out the 2017 season with a strong finish.

Alabama, of course, wants no part in this venture. Especially not on Senior Night. Can the Tide reverse their current slump and send Jimmie Taylor, Corban Collins, and Bola Olaniyan out the right way?

The game will tip-off at 7:30 PM CST and will be televised on the SEC Network.