Saddle up, Bear fans. The Markhuri Sanders-Frison farewell tour still has a few stops left. (we hope) Next up, a home NIT game against the Ackbars/Black Bears/Rebels from Mississippi.
Now before you start looking ahead to future Pac-12 squad Colorado or a West Coast bragging rights show-down with St. Mary's, keep in mind that the Ole Miss Rebels are not an easy out. They went 20-13 this year including wins over Kentucky, Alabama, and Penn State. They're also no strangers to post-season play; they've been to two NIT final fours within the last three years.
They play a 3 guard offense. Their guards are quick, strong, and will force turnovers by getting in your grill. In particular, Coach Andy Kennedy leans heavily on his seniors (Warren and Graham) and likes to push the pace to produce as many shots as possible.
On occasion, they'll go inside-out by feeding Terrance Henry and Reginald Buckner in the low post. But, Chris Warren is their star (1st team All-SEC). Most recently, he went head to head with possible lottery pick Brandon Knight of Kentucky and put up 20 points. They'll also run a lot of pick an roll and some pick and pop with Zach Graham, their best outside shooter. Although Warren isn't physically imposing (5'10, 168 lbs), he's fast and very cool under pressure. He can beat you from deep or on the bounce, and he's absolutely money from the line. (93.3%) With post-season tournament play being notoriously guard-dominated, you can't overlook a senior all-conference player who is a proven leader and has seen it all.
Chris Warren 5'10, 168, Sr, (19ppg, 3.9 apg) G - Cool, calm, collected, their best player.
Nick Williams 6'4, 215, So, (6.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg) G - Can shoot the rock, but struggles with turnovers.
Zach Graham 6'6, 210, Sr, (14.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg) G - Good defender, passes well, and can nail the three. Steady player who does a lot of things well.
Terrance Henry, 6'10, 210, Jr, ( 9.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg) F- Ole Miss' most consistent interior scorer. Tends to foul.
Reginald Buckner 6'9, 238, So, (7.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg) F - Defensive specialist who set the Ole Miss single-season record last year with two blocks per game. Also does a nice job on the boards, but can be foul-prone.
Dundrecous Nelson, 5'11, 194, Fr, (7.4 ppg) (G) - Gunner extraordinaire. Their version of GFrank. Talented, but just as apt to shoot them out of a game as he is to go microwave.
Trevor Gaskins, 6'2, 213, Jr, (6.1 ppg) (G) - Fiery player and a streak shooter.
Steadman Short, 6'9, 230, Jr, (3.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg) (PF/C) - Backs up Henry/Buckner. Solid player who doesn't try to do too much. Opportunistic scorer, defender, rebounder.
Demarco Cox, 6'8, 295, Fr, (2.3 ppg) (C) - Athletic true frosh center. Backs up Buckner.
For what it's worth, kenpom predicts a decisive Cal victory. I knew I always liked math.
A closer look at the stats shows that the two teams are evenly matched on offense. Cal is a slightly better shooting team, but Ole Miss shoots it better from the line. They do a better job crashing the offensive glass, but we do a better job cleaning up on defense. We move the ball better and have more assists. They have more shot-blocking and have a slight edge defensively.
1) Jorge/Smith vs. Warren/Graham - Warren and Graham form a potent 1-2 punch like Wethers/Shipp or Carlisle/Kilgore used to do...only it's hard to take Warren out of the game because he has the ball in his hands all the time. It'll be interesting what Monty decides to do here. Size-wise, it's a better matchup with Smith on Warren and Jorge on Graham. Although it's tempting to put Jorge on their star, there's a real risk of foul trouble and despite his defensive chops, Jorge struggles defending waterbug guards. Since we haven't been able to stop any small/quick guards all year anyway, (see Thomas, Isaiah; see Jone, Maurice) my guess is that we take our chances with Smith checking Warren and we use Jorge to pester Graham. Warren might get his, but if he can't get any help it hopefully won't matter. If we can make him a volume shooter, that would be gravy. Considering how we struggled to match up against 'sc when they went small, we might go with a zone look to limit dribble penetration and take our chances that they can't hit enough shots to bury us.
2) Kamp/MSF vs. Buckner/Henry - The Ole Miss bigs are long, tall, and athletic. But, they're not particularly beefy. Having struggled recently against the size of Vucevic/Stephenson, it will be important for Kamp and MSF to be able to win their matchups inside. Both Buckner and Henry like to go for blocks, but that makes them prone to foul trouble. Their backups, Short and Cox, aren't nearly the shot-blocking or scoring threats. If Kamp/MSF let themselves get shut down or intimidated, it's going to be a long day. On defense, our bigs are likely going to have to play one on one all day because we can't afford to double down low with all of their threats on the perimeter. The biggest x-factor here is whether our bigs will get in foul trouble from having to help out on their guards' driving into the paint.
3) Aggression/Emotion vs. Composure - There's a fine line between coming out flat and coming out overly aggressive. We crossed that line last week against 'sc and it really hurt us with poor shot selection, sloppy turnovers, and careless fouls. We need to play hard, but still play smart. With any luck, our veterans have had a chance to reflect on what went wrong and will set the proper tone. Like our team last year, they have a huge edge at the free throw line because they shoot it so well. It's always important for our short rotation to avoid foul trouble, but even more so than usual because the Rebels will absolutely make us pay. If it comes down to the wire, I'm more than a little concerned that their top two guys shoot 80+%(Graham) and 90+%(Warren) from the stripe.
4) Weather the Storm - Ole Miss likes to push the pace, force the action, and turn the game into an up-tempo, scrambled, scoring-fest. We need to keep them off the offensive glass, avoid putting them on the foul line (where they shoot a high %), and don't contribute to their "spurtability" by giving up easy points in transition.
5) Bench Production - Although the Black Bears/Rebels will go 8-10 deep, it's a little misleading because Warren and Graham rarely leave the floor. However, Solomon and Bak match up well with their wiry/athletic bigs. In some ways, they match up better than our starters. If our reserve bigs can put their stamp on the game, it could make all the difference.
Final Thoughts: In some ways, Ole Miss is a little reminiscent of USC with their quick guards who are streaky shooters, their one solid post-threat (Henry) and their shot-blocker clean-up guy (Buckner). Fortunately, they have not played as well on the road this year, and would rather out-run and out-score you than lock you down defensively. In that regard, they're more similar to Wazzu. Best-case scenario, we're able to methodically pound it inside, get their starters in foul trouble, and chip in with open 3's or shots in the lane off of screen n' roll or curl motion. Worst-case, we struggle with their quickness, our bigs get stonewalled by their height/shot-blocking, and their guards go wherever they want and get whatever shot they want all day. Most likely, this one could be a shoot-out. They're not a great defensive team, but I'm just not confident that we can shut down both Warren and Graham. Fact is, we're facing an experienced squad that is led by two senior guards. We can't overlook them or it's going to be a sad, sad, story. Our Bears are going to need your noise and your support. Let's rock the Haas and let our guys know how much we appreciate their efforts this year. Go Bears!