Ole Miss basketball and 12th-year head coach Andy Kennedy are looking to bounce back following a close overtime loss in The Pavilion earlier this week. The Rebels, who fell at home to South Dakota State 99-97, will return to the court this Saturday for a matchup with Virginia Tech.
The visiting Hokies are 6-1 on the season and will mark one of the more difficult opponents for the Rebels in early-season non-conference play. Ole Miss, 4-2 so far on the year, is still in the forgivable portion of the season. However, a loss to the Hokies could put the Rebels dangerously close to the .500 mark well before SEC play even commences.
To avoid a costly misstep and gain traction moving forward, Ole Miss will need to focus on three main factors in Saturday afternoon’s head-to-head:
Bridge the percentage gap
The biggest factor of this already intriguing matchup will be each team’s shooting percentage. Ole Miss, shooting a respectable .476, will need to focus on high-percentage looks and simultaneously limit the opportunities of Virginia Tech to do the same.
The Hokies have impressed thus far on the season, shooting .561 from the field and a strong .468 from behind the arc. That average, in comparison to the Rebels, amounts to 20 more made 3-point shots on just three more attempts.
While the Hokies’ offensive efficiency is disconcerting enough for the Rebels, their recent defensive surge may be even more deadly. Virginia Tech is coming off a blowout win against a prominent Iowa program, in which it held the Hawkeyes to a woeful 18 percent shooting in the second half.
For Ole Miss to dodge the fate Tech delivered to Iowa, an emphasis on creating high-percentage shots on offense and disrupting it on defense will be key for a victory Saturday.
Finding the charity stripe
Ole Miss’ 69.7 free-throw percentage, good for just 11th in the conference, is in need of some improvement. But just as important as the Rebels’ efficiency at the line is their ability to get there in the first place.
On the season, Ole Miss has attempted just 145 free throws through six games. That’s 15 fewer than the number Virginia Tech has made this season. The infrequency of the Rebels’ free-throw opportunities, coupled with their unimpressive percentage when they actually get there, should be a source of intense scrutiny and preparation moving into their upcoming game.
One interesting and important factor of this matchup will be the rebounding battle. While the Hokies have been strong in this aspect, their attack of the glass offensively has been underwhelming.
The Rebels, while fairly average in the defensive category, have been quite impressive in their offensive hustle for the ball. Marcanvis Hymon, who leads the team with 20 offensive and 31 defensive rebounds, will need to be in full form to offer second-chance opportunities on offense.
If Ole Miss can focus and deliver on these simple yet necessary points, an already important game could become an even more important victory.