The hardest thing about writing these game previews is trying to come up with a different way to say the same thing every week: UK is better than the opposition at every position; they have absolutely no business losing this game. The Ole Miss game is no different. The Rebels are a solid team (which we’ll talk more about in just a minute), but, at least on paper, they don’t have a chance in hell of matching up with Kentucky. But before we get to the Wildcats, though, let’s take a quick look at some things the Rebels do well:
– Ole Miss can put the ball in the hole. Their 80.9 points per game is good for 2nd in the SEC and 17th in the nation.
– Their backcourt (almost) gives Kentucky a run for its money. Junior guard Chris Warren ranks sixth in the SEC in scoring at 16.7 ppg, and sophomore guard Terrico White is 12th at 15 ppg.
– Ole Miss is a very respectable 16-5. They beat Kansas State and Indiana in their season opening tournament in Puerto Rico, and three of their losses came on the road against Villanova (currently the 2nd ranked team in the country), West Virginia (#6), Tennessee (#14), and the other two were at home to Mississippi State (a solid 16-5) and Arkansas (this one’s a little tougher to justify, but John Pelphrey’s squad is starting to turn things around now that most of the team is actually playing).
– Sophomore forward Murphy Holloway has beast potential in the post. He’s given the Rebels six double-doubles this season and is coming off a monstrous 17-point, 19-rebound performance against Arkansas.
– Ole Miss shoots the 3 at a nice 37 percent clip and averages over 25/game alone on treys.
So, in all seriousness, Ole Miss is no pushover. Position for position, they’re a much better team than South Carolina, and we all know what happened with them. So instead of breaking these matchups they way we usually do, let’s just break down a few things Kentucky needs to focus on against the Rebels tomorrow night:
1) Get Patrick Patterson involved. And by involved, I don’t mean have him float around the perimeter all night and exclusively shoot kick out 3-pointers, taking him away from the areas on the floor where he does the most damage. I don’t care if he starts knocking down 75 percent of his treys every night, we’re not making it to any Final Fours with Patterson playing from the perimeter. He needs to be inside, getting rebounds, working his magic in the post, reeking hell on any and all SEC big men, just like he did for the first two years of his career at Kentucky. His rebounding has been affected by this change in style as much as anything. He’s only pulling down 5.5 boards/night over his past eight games, and he hasn’t had double-digits since his 11-rebound haul against Long Beach State, way back on December 23rd. It’s no secret that Patterson’s move towards the perimeter has coincided with unleashing of DeMarcus Cousins, but I don’t think that one necessarily has to cancel out the other. Patterson just needs to start getting more (and by more, I mean some) touches with his back to the basket. That’s where he’s most dangerous. And most comfortable. He can still take some outside shots and handle the ball when he has to, but I’d love to see him get involved early by getting back to what he does best–making plays in the post.
2) Start Darnell Dodson. Except this time, it needs to be for Darius Miller, not Eric Bledsoe. You won’t find a guy in the world that wants Miller to succeed more than me. By all accounts, he’s a great, homegrown kid with all the tools a basketball player needs to succeed…except one: Confidence. And, yes, I’m very aware that yanking a kid with confidence issues out of the starting lineup may not do much to help his problem, but at this point I’m not sure there’s any other option. Calipari’s been beyond patient with Miller. He’s watched him play inconsistently all season yet still given him every chance in the world to prove he deserves to be in the starting lineup. And what’s Miller done in return? His combined numbers over the last two games: Zero points on three shots, one rebounds, three assists, three turnovers, no blocks, and no steals in 22 total minutes of action. Dodson’s: 21 points on 7-of-18 shooting, five treys, and nine rebounds in 39 minutes.
3) Right now, DeMarcus Cousins is the best player on the team. And we need to remember that. I’ve written as much a couple times before (here and here), and it’s becoming more obvious to every time I watch him play. The offense ran completely through him against South Carolina and Vandy. His combined numbers from those games: 48 points on 15-of-27 shooting (55 percent), 18-for-23 from the foul line (78 percent), 22 rebounds (12 of which were offensive), four blocks, and three steals. Those numbers tell you all you need to know. The guy is a beast of an offensive rebounder and just too big and strong for most big men to handle around the rim. At the moment, he’s our best and most consistent offensive threat, as well as our best rebounder. He gets us points, gets the other team in foul trouble, and even though it goes against our run, run, run principles, feeding him in the post is what’s working for our offense right now.