After a season full of turmoil and unmet expectations, Ole Miss men’s basketball’s regular-season ends this Saturday at home against Vanderbilt with Senior Night. The Commodores come to town looking to avoid finishing at the bottom of the SEC, while the Rebels are hoping to add a win to their less-than-impressive resume in hopes of a bubble NIT bid.
Vanderbilt’s record currently sits at 11-19, just one win behind the 12-18 Rebels. Eight games under .500, the Commodores are not likely to qualify for the NIT. While Ole Miss still has a small chance to earn a low seed in the NIT, the true battle on Saturday will be for pride.
Whoever loses this game will finish last in the SEC and, by extension, lower its program’s national profile even further. The seniors on this Ole Miss team, however, will have plenty to play for given that this is their last career game in front of a home crowd. After a disappointing year in Oxford, ending 2018 on a high note seems the priority for Deandre Burnett, Marcanvis Hymon, Justas Furmanavicius and the rest of Ole Miss’ seniors.
The most interesting matchup Saturday will come at the forward spot. Vanderbilt senior Jeff Roberson plays a game almost identical to that of Ole Miss’ Bruce Stevens. Aside from the 2 inches of height Stevens holds over Roberson, the two are effectively the same player. Roberson is a high-volume scorer, leading Vanderbilt with 16.9 points per game. Though Stevens averages just 10.4 per game, he was not a regular starter until roughly a third of the way into the season.
It is worth noting that Stevens is one of the largest players on this Ole Miss team, despite his small-for-a-big-man height of 6 feet 8 inches. Because of this, Stevens has had his scoring abilities tapered by the burden of filling in at center. With this in mind, Stevens is nearly equal to Roberson if given the opportunity to match up directly at the four spot.
Aside from Roberson and senior guard Riley LaChance, who averages 14.1 points per game, the Commodores have not been able to find much in the way of consistent scoring. Their true strength, however, is the guards’ ability to defend along the perimeter. In recent games, Vanderbilt has held some prominent guards to below-average numbers on offense. This unit forces a fair number of turnovers and takes teams out of their grooves.
Even though the Commodores bring a comparatively weak offensive unit, the Rebels match that with their weak defense; it let up 96 points to Kentucky in a game that did not go to overtime. Expect a high-scoring affair with lots of passion from Ole Miss’ graduating class.
Saturday’s tip is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at The Pavilion.