Breaking Down the Game: Can Ole Miss Ride Its Hot Streak to a Win Over Wisconsin?

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on March 20th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a SEC Microsite contributor and an editor at Anchor of Gold and Nashville Sports Hub. You can reach him on Twitter @TrainIsland.

The #5-#12 match-up has traditionally been the most exciting place to be on the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. When red-hot SEC champion Ole Miss squares off with a stout and unpredictable Wisconsin team, it may be the best game of the Second and Third rounds.

Mississippi enters the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002 after winning the SEC title. The boisterous play of shooting guard Marshall Henderson has made the Rebels a front-page attraction despite their #12 seed, but it’s the steady presence of rock-solid players like Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner who have been the fuel behind Ole Miss’ comeback. Henderson, the senior guard in his first year as a Rebel, deserves his share of the praise. Ole Miss needed every victory in its recent five-game winning streak to make it to the Big Dance. Over that stretch, the veteran shooter has averaged 23.4 points per game and made at least three three-pointers in each of those contests. When he turns his swagger on, the rest of Andy Kennedy’s Mississippi team flows with him, often leading to feast-or-famine runs that can lead this team to monster wins and shocking losses.

The confidence that Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss are exhibiting might be enough to get by rugged Wisconsin. (AP)

The confidence that Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss are exhibiting might be enough to get by rugged Wisconsin. (AP)

The Badgers won’t let Henderson and company get too hot, though. Head coach Bo Ryan’s teams are built on a bedrock of slow play and deliberate work on the defensive end. The Badgers’ grind-em-down style of play sucks high-energy guards into their game plan and feeds on frustration. The end result has been a resume filled with key upsets in 2013 and a laundry list of high-scoring guards that were temporarily turned into low-efficiency gunners. Let’s look at how some of the Big Ten’s best shooters have fared against Bo Ryan’s defensive schemes this season. Also included for comparison is Nebraska chucker Ray Gallegos, whose volume shooting may make him the best Big Ten comparison for a player like Henderson.

Each of these players had two games against the Badgers this year:

  • Trey Burke (Michigan): 19.0 PPG (0.88 points per shot), 37.2 FG%, 27.3 3PT%, 2.5 TO
  • Brandon Paul (Illinois): 10.5 PPG (0.88 pps), 16.7 FG%, 12.5 3PT%, 1.0 TO
  • Victor Olapido (Indiana): 10.0 PPG (1.05 pps), 36.8 FG%, 50.0 3PT%, 2.5 TO
  • Gary Harris (Michigan State): 8.5 PPG (1.00 pps), 41.2 FG%, 40.0 3PT%, 1.5 TO
  • Ray Gallegos (Nebraska): 9.0 PPG (0.78 pps), 34.8 FG%, 12.5 3PT%, 2.0 TO

Each of these guards were held to below-average performances against the Badgers. Only Harris managed to crack the 40% shooting barrier against the defense that Ken Pomeroy has ranked third in the nation. This year’s results suggest that Henderson could be in for a long day — and a big downward swing — when he tries to square up and shoot against Wisconsin on Friday. Not that a little thing like defense or statistics would ever stop Henderson. Still, the key to toppling the Badgers could be getting an efficient game out of an underrated but over-performing frontcourt.

Players who can pull down rebounds on the defensive glass and get to the free throw line on the other end of the court have helped key upset wins over Wisconsin in 2012-13. Iowa’s Aaron White led his Hawkeyes to a victory behind a 17-point, seven-rebound performance that included a 13-of-15 showing from the free throw line. Virginia’s Akil Mitchell and Darion Atkins combined for 25 points and 17 rebounds on only 15 shots when they beat the Badgers in Madison. Creighton star Doug McDermott did the things he does best en route to a 30-point, eight-board day against Ryan’s team.

This is good news for Ole Miss. The Rebels have better big men than any of those teams thanks to their dynamic duo up front. Holloway and Buckner are both efficient scorers who thrive when Henderson draws defenders away from the paint. While the Rebels guard was getting front page coverage for land sharking, Holloway was putting up a 14.7/10.3 PPG/RPG line in Ole Miss’run to the SEC Tournament title. Buckner’s impact was significant as well — 11 points and 6.7 boards per game on 66.7 percent shooting. They’re also effective on defense — the two combined for an average of 17 rebounds, 3.4 blocks, and 2.7 steals for Mississippi this season.

So while the media focus will be on Henderson and his quest to shoot through the Badger defense, the key to a Rebels upset will be the two cornerstones of their frontcourt. Ole Miss can survive a 3-of-14 shooting performance from their flamboyant two-guard. It’s unlikely that they’ll be able to advance to the Third Round if Wisconsin can find a way to similarly handle Holloway and Buckner. Wisconsin is a six-point favorite on Friday, and that’s for good reason. The Badgers are a team that have toppled seven different top 15 teams in 2013. On the other hand, Mississippi, while riding a hot streak, is less than three weeks removed from a loss to hapless Mississippi State. Even so, the ingredients are in place for an Ole Miss upset — they’ll just have to break through a stout Badger defensive front with their rock-solid forwards first.

Christian D'Andrea (20 Posts)

Christian D'Andrea is a SEC microsite contributor. He also manages and writes for the Vanderbilt blog Anchor of Gold. You can find him on Twitter at @TrainIsland

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