The Ole Miss Rebels (16-11) are set to face cross-state rivals Mississippi State (14-12) Tuesday night in Starkville. After a disappointing 98-80 loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday, head coach Andy Kennedy and his team are in do-or-die mode with March Madness just over the horizon. Here are a few things to watch for during the game:
Can Saiz bounce back?
Power forward Sebastian Saiz has been a pillar of consistency for the Rebels all season; as one of only two seniors on the roster, his on-court leadership is vital for a young and somewhat undersized Ole Miss team. Averaging a double double per game over the course of the season, Saiz is the definition of a big game player. Earlier in the year, he posted 20 points and 10 rebounds against No. 9 Baylor and contributed 23 points and 15 rebounds during a game against No. 10 Kentucky. That trend was bucked on Saturday as the Razorbacks held Saiz to just eight points and five rebounds. A strong performance from Saiz will go a long way towards getting the Rebels back on track.
Continuing the trend
Ole Miss has won six of the last seven games against Mississippi State, including an 88-61 victory last month in Oxford. The last time the Bulldogs traveled to The Pavilion, Ole Miss out-rebounded them 43-30 and committed just eight turnovers. Even throughout this crucial, final stretch of the regular season, the Rebels continue to struggle with turnovers and defensive cohesion. Kennedy should relish this opportunity to see his team pick up where they left off earlier this year and get back to business.
Mississippi State is in the midst of a four game losing streak, including drops to Auburn and Georgia. This Saturday they suffered a tough 57-52 loss to Florida in front of their own fans. While it may be too early to write the Rebels off from a miracle NCAA Tournament appearance, it’s probably safe to say the Bulldogs won’t be a part of March Madness. All in all, it hasn’t been a great season for State. With that said, it’s still a cross-state rivalry game. Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland will ensure his shows up ready to play on Tuesday.
Which guards will show up?
Breein Tyree, Deandre Burnett and Terence Davis make up one of the most electrifying back courts in the Southeastern Conference. All three can handle the ball, score, and create opportunities for teammates. Their problem, much like the rest of the team, has been consistency. Will Davis, who posted 33 points against LSU last Tuesday, show up? Can Tyree and Burnett improve their assist numbers or will they continue giving the ball away on useless drives? Only time will tell, but Kennedy will need his guard core running on all cylinders if the Rebels are going to send the Bulldogs packing.
Tip off is scheduled for 8 p.m. Tuesday.