PREVIEW: Men’s basketball team prepares for Big 12/SEC Challenge

Then-senior forward Justin Edwards lunges toward the basket past several Ole Miss defenders in the second half of the Wildcats' 69-64 win over the Rebels in the Big 12/SEC Challenge game Jan. 30, 2016, in Bramlage Coliseum. (Archive photo by Parker Robb | The Collegian)

The Kansas State men’s basketball team (10-9, 2-6) takes a sigh of relief as it heads to Oxford, Mississippi, this weekend to take on Ole Miss (10-10, 2-5) in what will be the Wildcats’ first competition against an unranked opponent since Jan. 12.

The match-up is part of the ninth annual Big 12/SEC Challenge. Despite losing the overall challenge in 2021, Big 12 teams hold an overall record of 44-35, a winning record which the Wildcats look to contribute to on Saturday.

The two teams enter the game nearly indistinguishably, statistically speaking — K-State enters the game 10-9, Ole Miss comes in at 10-10. The Wildcats come in averaging 67.5 points per game on 42.5 percent shooting from the field, while the Rebels average 67.4 points per game on 42.8 percent shooting. Both teams average 34 boards a game and own a 1.1 assist-to-turnover ratio. The largest discrepancy between the two teams on paper is the points given up, but even then, the difference is just 3.2 points per game.

Ole Miss has been without its star senior Jarkel Joiner since Dec. 21, when he suffered a back injury. Joiner led the team in offense, and, despite missing eight games, is still listed as third on the team’s overall scoring list.

In the eight-game stretch since Joiner’s injury, sophomore guard Matthew Murrell has filled some void. He is leading the team during that stretch with 15.8 points per game while shooting 51.2 percent from the field.

Murrell has been efficient from deep as well, hitting multiple threes in seven of those eight games, including a perfect 5-for-5 performance earlier this month against Mississippi State. During that stretch, Murrell is shooting 50 percent from a distance.

Another guy showing up for the Rebels as of late is the 5 foot 9 inch point guard Daeshun Ruffin. Ruffin found himself starting in the lineup because of the injury to Joiner, and he hasn’t missed a beat. In his eight starts, Ruffin has averaged 11.1 points, four assists and nearly three steals per game.

The Rebels have also seen solid minutes from their big guy, senior Nysier Brooks. Brooks is averaging nearly eight rebounds and 9.6 points per game this season. He has also tallied 24 blocks.

Brooks and the paint is an area the Wildcats will have to attack, as Ole Miss has proven themselves to be defensive masters from three-point range. The Rebels are 15th in Division-I for three-point defense, holding their opponents to just 29.2 percent from deep. This season Ole Miss has held their opponent to four or fewer three-pointers, nine times. In contrast, the Wildcats have only had two games this season where they hit four or fewer threes, both resulting in a loss.

Electricity bills might run a little higher on Saturday for Big 12 and SEC fans, as the K-State and Ole Miss match-up is just one of ten games on the slate for the Big 12/SEC challenge.

The Wildcats and the Rebels will face off for the first time since 2016. Tip-off is set for 3 p.m., with the game airing on ESPNU. A recap will be on the Collegian after the game.