After wins over Long Beach State and Central Arkansas, the K-State Men’s basketball team has pushed its record to 4-3 heading into tonight’s matchup with the Ole Miss Rebels. The Rebels, who are 6-0, come to Manhattan as part of ESPN’s Big 12-SEC Challenge. The game will be aired nationally on ESPN2, and tips off at 8 p.m. at Bramlage Coliseum.
Ole Miss will be one of K-State’s toughest opponents this season, and could be a great resume builder if the Wildcats can pick up the win. The K-State Athletic Department has made it apparent that this is a big game by their media release on Monday. Hoping to ensure a packed house for the biggest non-conference game in Manhattan in several years, K-State is giving the first 1,000 students a Mac ‘N Cheese Grilled Cheese courtesy of the Varsity Donuts Truck. Selling out Bramlage and creating a hostile environment could go a long way to helping K-State pull off the upset.
The Rebels are coached by Andy Kennedy, who is in his 8th season at Ole Miss. Kennedy is hoping to build on last year’s NCAA Tournament success that saw the 12-seed Rebels reach the third round after pulling off an upset of 5-seed Wisconsin. The 2012-2013 team went 12-4 in SEC games claiming second in the conference. They also took home the SEC tournament championship.
The tough, sometimes erratic play of Ole Miss leads to lots of shots and some impressive scoring performances. Through six games, the Rebels have three players averaging over 15 points per game. Junior guard Jarvis Summers paces Ole Miss at 15.7 points per game. He is joined in the backcourt by sophomore Derrick Millinghaus and senior Marshall Henderson, who average 15.3 and 15.2 points per game respectively.
While a bulk of the Ole Miss scoring is done from the guard position, the frontcourt is long and athletic, and crashes the boards extremely well. The Rebels average nearly 42 rebounds per game, and do a good job of fighting for offensive rebounds. To counter this, teams have been packing the paint, allowing the Rebels to shoot a remarkable 39 percent from three-point range. If the Wildcats want to slow down Ole Miss, they will need to start with perimeter defense. Limiting extra shots and possessions, and slowing down the Rebels’ playmakers could go a long way in securing a win for Bruce Weber and his team.
Basketball fans will likely recognize Henderson, who is one of the most polarizing figures in all of college basketball. Last season, Henderson carried the Rebels to the SEC tournament title, and then scored 19 points in the upset over Wisconsin in last year’s NCAA tournament. While Henderson’s talent is unquestionable, his on-court antics have gotten him in trouble several times with Ole Miss and the NCAA. Perhaps even more notable is Henderson’s past, which features drug abuse, crime, and three different colleges. Before this season started, Henderson vowed that he is working on his issues, and thus far, seems to have kept to his word.
K-State’s concerns so far this season have been mostly on the offensive end. Through seven games, the Wildcats are shooting only 42 percent from the field, and only 27 percent from three-point range. Freshman guard Marcus Foster leads K-State in scoring at nearly 14 points per game. Foster is joined in double figures by forward Thomas Gipson, who is averaging just over 11 points in only 18 minutes per game. Couple the shooting woes with the Wildcats one-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio, and you have major offensive issues.
Defensively, the Wildcats have been solid. Opponents are shooting under 40 percent from the field, and are averaging just under 62 points per game. A lot of this stems from Weber’s deep rotation, which features nine players that average over 14 minutes per game. With fresh bodies rotating in and out, the Wildcats can play pressure defense on the perimeter, and force opposing shooters into tough shots.
K-State trails the all-time series against Ole Miss 0-3, with the most recent loss coming in 2009. The only time the Rebels have traveled to Manhattan was in 2001, when Ole Miss won 67-65.
K-State will continue their home stand after Ole Miss with a game against South Dakota on Dec. 10. With no real notable wins so far this season, it is paramount that the Wildcats start improving and winning games before entering their brutal Big 12 schedule. A victory over Ole Miss tonight would be a huge step in the right direction.