Kentucky may no longer be playing for the SEC regular-season title, but it still doesn’t want to lose back-to-back Games, something Mississippi just did. At the least, the Wildcats still have a chance to get a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament, while the Rebels aren’t even guaranteed to make it. Both teams have something to play for in the only meeting between them this season.
Ole Miss had a nice start to the year at 13-2, but has been a little all over in SEC play. At one point, it lost Four straight Games and has now lost three of Four. While the Rebs have struggled on the road, they already lost at home to Miss. State and Tennessee. This should still be a battle as long as the Rebs find a way to Scoreconsistently. Either that or their defense steps up a notch and finds a way to deal with PJ Washington and company.
The Rebels have some size with KJ Buffen, Blake Hinson and Bruce Stevens, but big man Dominik Olejniczak was removed from the starting lineup the last two Games. Given that Kentucky has the rebounding advantage, it’s a wonder if Olejniczak will stay on the bench in this matchup as it’s not like Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery are offensive threats. It also doesn’t help that the Wildcats have a size edge at every other position with Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson both solid rebounders for their positions.
Breein Tyree (18.3 ppg) and Terence Davis (15.6) are the only Ole Miss players averaging double-digits and when those guys aren’t cooking, that usually means trouble. The problem is that Kentucky has the most efficient defense in the SEC and has the players to match up with both Tyree and Davis. Keldon Johnson, an excellent defender, will mark Davis, while Ashton Hagans deals with Tyree, and Herro helps on both. If Tyree and Davis can’t reach their averages, the Rebs will need scoring elsewhere and that usually means Devontae Shuler on the outside or somewhere on the inside. With Reid Travis likely to miss another Game, that could open for guys like Hinson, Stevens and Buffen to win their matchup down low. If Travis plays, that boosts Kentucky’s defense even more and would make it harder for Ole Miss to get the upset.
On the other end, the Rebs need to stop PJ Washington because that’s the guy you can’t have go off. They have the size, so it’s possible, and he only has 22 points in the last two Games. If Washington is contained, that will force Herro and Johnson into bigger roles, which isn’t always a guarantee for production. Herro was on fire against Arkansas (29 points), but managed just six points against Tennessee, shooting 2-for-11 from the field. Johnson and Hagans are good players, but they do a little of everything and scoring probably isn’t their best traits. Without Travis, that takes away another big body that can score, as Richards and Montgomery aren’t in that same mold.
Without Travis, Kentucky has had noticeable issues the last two Games and if Ole Miss can capitalize down low, that’s the first step in getting an upset. If the Rebs let Washington dominate in the paint and leave him open on the perimeter, then those chances become much smaller.
Our Pick – Kentucky -5