SEC Weekday Primer: Tennessee, Ole Miss Fight for Conference PositionPosted by Greg Mitchell on January 28th, 2014
Another week in the SEC brings another slate of games that will play a big role in determining whether the conference has more than two bids to the NCAA Tournament. But there’s also a cannibalistic aspect to the upcoming weekday games: Ole Miss and Tennessee play in Knoxville, while Missouri and Arkansas face off in Fayetteville. Each team is in need of a big win, but two are guaranteed to fall further back in their search for a resume-booster.
Don’t Miss This One, Part I: Ole Miss @ Tennessee (Wednesday, 8:00 PM ET)
The Rebels face their stiffest conference test to date in Knoxville, but have built up some momentum with a four-game winning streak. Tennessee, on the other hand, is coming off a 26.8 percent shooting performance in a loss to Florida. The Gators are an elite defensive team, but there’s no excuse for the Vols to only get five field goals (five!) from players other than Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon. Two seniors will need to shake off their recent struggles to provide Tennessee with a spark on the perimeter. Jordan McRae is coming off an understandably-deflating 1-of-15 shooting performance, and Antonio Barton is 3-of-19 from three over the last five games. The Vols do need a spark, because a loss would drop them to 3-4 in league play before they embark on two consecutive road games. The game is equally important for Ole Miss, which has an opportunity to pick up just its second quality win of the year (the other being at home to LSU). The Rebels’ interior defense is a key to this game. Sebastian Saiz (20 percent defensive rebounding percentage) and Aaron Jones (9.9 percent block percentage) will be a big part of the Rebels’ effort to contain Stokes and Maymon. And of course there is Marshall Henderson, who after a recent shouting match with Rick Ray, could be on the verge of something Deadspin-worthy.
Don’t Miss This One, Part II: Kentucky @ LSU (Tuesday, 9:00 PM ET)
LSU has precious few opportunities left for marquee wins (the other is March 1 in Gainesville), and would do itself a giant favor by winning this evening. Few games will feature as much pro-level talent on the court at one time than this one. It’s conceivable there could be as many as six future NBA frontcourt players on the floor at once if both teams go with big lineups. Opportunities at the rim should be few and far between with Jordan Mickey and Willie Cauley-Stein, the league’s best two shot-blockers, on either end of the court. Naturally, guards will probably end up playing a deciding role in this game, and an interesting mini-matchup will be which star forward can pass out of double teams more effectively: Julius Randle or Johnny O’Bryant. Both low post bruisers have faced near-constant double teams this season, and have roughly equal assist percentages (12.4 percent for Randle, 10.2 percent for O’Bryant). O’Bryant did a good job of this in the Tigers’ win last week against Missouri, and was able to find Anthony Hickey with a crosscourt pass to set up late three against Alabama. Given the hordes of double teams Randle has faced all year, you’d think his assist numbers would be better, but it’s easy to forget he is a freshman and this is a difficult skill to develop.
Player to Keep An Eye On: Gavin Ware
There has to be something to watch when Florida faces Mississippi State on national TV Thursday night. The sophomore forward has been limited to just 28 minutes in his last two games due to foul trouble. Despite hauling in only four rebounds combined in those, he still has an absurd 28.4 percent defensive rebounding percentage, the best mark in the SEC. He faces a litmus test against Florida, which has the 30th best team offensive rebounding percentage in the country. Ware has shown big-game potential this season, scoring 19+ points and grabbing 10+ rebounds four times. While it’s not realistic he’ll put up numbers like that against the Gators, having a solid performance against a dynamite defensive team would be a nice step in his development.