Primer: Ole Miss - Auburn

Sebastian Saiz

Ole Miss (9-4) hosts Auburn (8-3) today at 6 p.m. to open Southeastern Conference play. What to watch for? We take a look.


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Game: Ole Miss - Auburn
Date: Jan. 9, 6 p.m.
Location: Oxford, Miss.
TV/Radio: ESPN2/Ole Miss Radio Network


The Lede:

Ole Miss will be without leading scorer Marshall Henderson when it opens Southeastern Conference play tonight against Auburn.

But for Rebel head coach Andy Kennedy, the absence of the prolific guard, who is averaging 18.8 points per game, comes second to his greatest concern.

Rebounding.

Ole Miss, 9-4 on the year following an 83-80 loss to Dayton last week, has been outrebounded in each of the last five games. Opponents are grabbing, on average, three more rebounds each outing this season. The Rebels have allowed 47 more rebounds to opposing teams in the last five games, which equates to around nine a game.

Ole Miss has outrebounded its opponent four times in 13 games this season, with Dayton the latest in what has become a frustrating, and perplexing, trend for the eighth-year head coach.

"We're 9-4 on the season. But if you based wins and losses on rebounding battles, we would be 4-9," Kennedy said.


Marshall Henderson
USA TODAY images

"That's greatly discouraging to me. That's very, very difficult for us to overcome, and for us to lose by a possession here, a possession there, makes it maddening for me. It's an area you think you should control."

Kennedy would obviously prefer to have Henderson in the fold. Along with tonight's game, Henderson will also miss Saturday at Mississippi State due to the school's self-imposed suspension announced in October.

But Ole Miss suffered four losses in the non-conference, including three at home, with Henderson. Team-wide rebounding has to improve.

"We have to make compensations in a number of areas based on size," Kennedy said. "But we have to get tougher, grind, hold our block-outs longer and do the things that we can control to fix this area. Because if we don't fix this area, then I'm not sure we can be what we want to be.

"Our margin of area is not quite as large as it was last year based on a number of personnel issues. So we have to fix what we can."

Improvement can come from a lot of areas. Kennedy said last week in an interview with the Ole Miss Spirit veterans Aaron Jones and Demarco Cox have to be better, while true freshman Sebastian Saiz, the most-efficient rebounder on the team, is taking on a larger role.

However, the struggles go beyond the bigs. Actually, the true root of the problem might be in the back court.

Last season, seniors Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway, two of the most accomplished players, and rebounders, in Ole Miss history, tallied some 17 rebounds between them game-in and game-out. Jones and Terry Brutus accounted for six or so, bringing the rebound total to roughly 23 from post players.

Jones, Cox and Saiz aren't far off the pace of Holloway and Buckner. Actually, they're about in line.


Demarco Cox
USA TODAY images

The difference? Guards. Inconsistency has plagued Ladarius White, Anthony Perez and others all year. Jarvis Summers is playing a different role as a junior, and his emphasis on scoring, as called for by Kennedy, has meant a sacrifice in rebounding numbers.

It's on his teammates, like White and Perez, to step their games up.

"To me it's an awareness thing," Kennedy said. "It's awareness, or lack thereof. Being aware, being fundamentally sound and giving great effort.

"I don't think this team can ever be faulted for not giving great effort. I'm pretty critical with a naked eye, but when I have an opportunity to go back and look at it and watch it on tape, I'm a little more neutral. It's never been effort. It's been awareness. It's being where you're supposed to be consistently and then making the play. That's where we've fallen short."

As for being without Henderson for the next two games, Kennedy said the Rebels will have to adjust a lot of what they do, especially on offense. Auburn is one of the worst teams in the country statistically at defending the 3. Not the ideal game to not have Henderson, whose 4.42 3-pointers made per game ranks third nationally.

"The good thing is that we have 13 games under our belt, and 12 of them were with him," Kennedy said. "Our guys now have some experience and there's going to be opportunity with his lack of presence.

"We're going to have to do it by committee. I can't ask one guy to step in and fill that role, and we'll make those adjustments because we knew they were coming."


Scouting Auburn:
(Ole Miss Athletics Media Relations)

Auburn posted an 8-3 record in non-league play and has won four straight entering Thursday's SEC opener, including wins over Clemson and Boston College.

The Tigers are fifth in the league scoring averaging 76.8 points per game, but rank 13th giving up 70.8 ppg. Virginia transfer K.T. Harrell leads Auburn and ranks first in the league averaging 19.4 points per game, while junior Chris Denson is close behind and ranks third in the conference scoring 19.0 ppg. Harrell also ranks fourth in the league shooting 42.6 percent from beyond the arc and sixth averaging 2.4 made 3-pointers a game.


Andy Kennedy
File Photo

Thursday's game will be the 128th meeting between the two schools in a series that dates back to 1928. The Tigers hold an all-time series lead of 73-54, but Ole Miss has won seven of the last nine meetings including the last four. The Rebels posted their first season sweep of Auburn last year since 2010 winning both matchups.

Ole Miss is 38-23 all time versus the Tiger in Oxford, haven't lost at home to Auburn since 2008 and have taken five of the last six in Tad Smith. Andy Kennedy is 10-5 in his career against the Tigers including four-straight wins.


Leftovers:
(Ole Miss Athletics Media Relations)

* Junior G Jarvis Summers is one of the most improved players in the league this season upping his scoring 8.7 points per game (17.8 from 9.1), field goal percentage 14.8 percent (55.2% from 40.4%) and his 3-point field goal percentage 20.5 percent (54.5% from 34.0%) over last year's totals. Summers has led the Rebels in scoring a team-high seven times including a career-best 30 points in Ole Miss' overtime loss to Dayton. He has posted 5 20+ points games this season and is averaging 24.7 points per game over the last three contests.

* Freshman F Sebastian Saiz tied a career-high with 11 boards in his second career start versus Dayton. The Spain native ranks fourth among freshmen in the SEC pulling down 6.5 rebounds per game and is averaging 10.3 boards a game over his last three games.

* The Rebels have an overall record of 27-53 in Southeastern Conference openers in their previous 80 years of play in the league. Ole Miss knocked off Tennessee 92-74 in Knoxville last year to begin league play en route to a school-record 6-0 start to SEC action. The Rebels are opening SEC play on at home for the fourth time in the last 16 years.

Spirit's Pick:

Ole Miss


Ole Miss Logo
Even with Henderson out of action, Ole Miss should handle an Auburn team that arrives in Oxford with an RPI rank of 169. Terrible, to be sure, but not even the worst in another ugly year for the SEC. The Tigers are 12th, ahead of both Texas A&M and Georgia. The Rebels, by comparison, are sixth in the SEC with an RPI of 86, and having suffered four losses in the non-league, these are the games they have to win to maintain any realistic hopes of reaching the NCAA tournament for the second time in two seasons.

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