The Southeastern Conference Tournament tipped off Wednesday night in Nashville, Tennessee, as 14th-ranked Missouri upset 11th-ranked Auburn 86-83 in overtime with an emphatic last-minute shot. The Ole Miss Rebels, entering the tournament as the No. 6 seed in the SEC, are now set to take on Mizzou at 9:30 Thursday night. Whether you’re making the trip to Tennessee or tuning in at home, here are a few key points to look out for:
Will Saiz get his swan song?
The 6-foot-9-inch Spaniard has forged quite the name for himself in Oxford. With 19 double-doubles on the season and an SEC-leading 10.9 rebounds per game, the 2016-2017 NCAA basketball season has had Saiz at his very best. But as the regular season drew to a close, questions regarding head coach Andy Kennedy’s over-reliance on the senior have remained front and center.
When teams shut down Saiz, they shut down the scoring heart and rebounding soul of Ole Miss’ lineup. The Rebels, collectively, struggled to find their rhythm throughout the regular season. And while accolades, including an All-SEC First Team selection, have piled up over the past few weeks, the ultimate reward for Saiz’s service in Oxford would be a run at the SEC championship.
The evolution of Terence Davis
Mercurial and streaky, but at times undeniably game-changing, no other Rebel has improved his game as much as Davis has this season. After averaging a minute 1.8 points per game last season, the Southaven native is up to 14.0 ppg on the season while averaging 17.1 ppg over the past seven games. Which Terence Davis is going to show up Thursday night? Will it be the guard who dropped 33 on LSU last month or the guard who contributed just three points against South Carolina earlier this week?
When Davis is hot, he’s red hot, but when he’s cold, he’s ice cold. That’s what makes him such a captivating player. Furthermore, Davis has struggled with foul trouble all season, fouling out five times and reaching four or more fouls 15 times. If Ole Miss plans on making a serious run at the SEC championship, Davis needs to be on the court and playing his best basketball.
Missouri’s mounting momentum
Wow. After winning just seven games all season, the Missouri Tigers stormed back and upset a fairly decent Auburn Tigers team to advance to the second round of the SEC Tournament. As Terrence Phillips, a sophomore guard for the Tigers, fouled out with just minutes left in regulation time, it felt as though Missouri’s fate was sealed. Not on Kevin Puryear’s watch. The sophomore guard dropped 30 on Auburn and led Mizzou with seven rebounds. On top of that, current head coach Kim Anderson has been asked to step down after this season by his athletic director. In other words, his players are now competing for roster spots next. What does this all mean for their match against the Rebels? Missouri’s going to have plenty of motivation and momentum. If Jordan Barnett, leading the Tigers with 12 ppg, produces and Puryear comes close to replicating his Wednesday night form, Ole Miss is in for a handful.