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Rebels Face Tough Test On The Road

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Through 70 Southeastern Conference games, home teams are 50-20 with a winning percentage of 71.4 percent. Ole Miss is one of six teams in the SEC with multiple league road wins, having won at South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

Ole Miss (16-7, 7-3 SEC) seeks to double its league road win total with back-to-back road games this week, starting with Alabama on Tuesday night (8 p.m., ESPNU), followed by another road battle at Georgia on Saturday.

"We have embraced the grind," said senior guard Marshall Henderson after the Rebels' 91-88 win over Missouri Saturday, the team's best RPI win to date. "We know every game is going down to the wire, no matter who we play. We just have to fight through and get the win."

Alabama is 9-14 on the season and 3-7 in the SEC after dropping a pair of road games last week at Arkansas and at No. 3 Florida. The Crimson Tide are winless on the road this season, but 9-4 at home. Senior Trevor Releford leads Alabama averaging 18.3 points per game, which is seventh in the SEC in scoring.

The Crimson Tide has the nation's No. 2 overall strength of schedule and No. 9-ranked nonconference schedule, with nine games against teams ranked in the top 50 of the latest RPI (ESPN.com).

"Every game on the road is going to be tough," said Henderson on Saturday. "I watched Alabama and Florida play earlier today, and they played Florida tough. Florida is unstoppable in that building, and they played them tough all the way there until the very end. Alabama is definitely a lot better than their record shows, that's for sure. They have one of the toughest schedules in the whole country." 

Ole Miss shoots better from the field (.453 at home/.390 on road) and from 3-point range (.419 at home/.316 on road) at home and rebound the ball better with a -5.6 rebound margin on the road and an even rebounding margin at home.

The Rebels will lean on its veteran backcourt of Henderson (19.6 ppg) and Jarvis Summers (17.4 ppg), the team's two leading scorers, who rank third and eighth in the SEC in scoring, respectively. 

"Marshall draws a lot of attention, both on and off the court," head coach Andy Kennedy said. "The attention that he draws on the floor, Jarvis has done a much better job in year two of playing with him, of playing in those gaps that are created by the way people try to defend Henderson, and as a result, he's had a very productive year for us."

Ole Miss enters the week ranked No. 51 in the latest RPI, while Alabama (No. 110) and Georgia (No. 113) are rated just outside the top 100. 

The Rebels are 4-6 against top-100 RPI teams this season, highlighted by the win over Missouri. After this week, however, they have back-to-back opportunities with two top-10 RPI teams in Kentucky (No. 10) and Florida (No. 5) coming to the Tad Smith Coliseum.

"If we play like we did tonight, as far as being focused and high energy, it will give us a chance at those places," Henderson said. "We also know that if we get those two, we have probably the biggest week in Ole Miss basketball history with Kentucky and Florida coming in here back-to-back. We have to get these two, starting with the one in Tuscaloosa. We have to get them."

VIDEO: Andy Kennedy Media Opportunity

Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy met with members of the media Thursday, ahead of the Rebels hosting the Missouri Tigers on Saturday (4 p.m., Fox Sports Net).

On Julius Randle's dunk against Derrick Millinghaus:

We had a tough night on a number of fronts. The game, and then we had a tough time getting out of Lexington because of the weather and then we had to fly to Memphis and drive back. What was about an hour and 15 minute flight turned into about a four and a half hour debacle. On the bus ride home, they showed it with a graphic like nine times in an hour and 15 minutes, so he got to see it. He will get to see it again today.

On Kentucky being a teachable game:

We gave ourselves a chance. Early, we were up five or six points and we seemed to be executing and not getting completely dominated on the glass. The zone was bothering them a little bit. Our primary objective going into the game was to try to keep them in front of us. That's where they broke us down. We couldn't keep anybody in front of us and then we were in a poor position to rebound the ball. Any shots that they did miss, they cleaned up off the offensive glass. Their length is difficult, and it's really hard to simulate. If you don't create some space, then it's difficult to continue to try to score over them all night, and we had trouble with that in the second half.

On rebounding:

I thought we were getting better at rebounding, but look at our last three outings. At Tennessee, we got destroyed. That was a difficult matchup for us, and they're pretty good at what they do. Against South Carolina at home, we get beat by 10. And then we go to Kentucky, and they're maybe leading the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, so we knew it was going to be a challenge, but we just got destroyed. We obviously had these issues in November and December, and we thought we had come to some sort of a conclusion as to how to remedy them, and then they have seemed to have risen back up.

On the different defenses Ole Miss plays:

It's all matchup dependent. If you look at it, our man-to-man has helped us in moments. Our half-court trap really saved us against South Carolina, and it had not been that effective in the three or four games prior to that. Our 1-3-1 zone has been good to us at times. The 2-3 zone has probably been our best overall statistical defense. We will continue to mix and match depending upon whom we're playing, how we're playing, who they have in the game and who we have in the game. There are a number of factors.

On Missouri:

They are a good team with really, really good guards. Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown have size, athleticism, and they are both highly skilled. Jabari Brown is having a Player-of-the-Year-type campaign. He's averaging around 22 points per game and shooting a ridiculous percentage from the floor and from 3, and he's a volume guy. He's Marshall, but Marshall is around 33 to 34 percent, while he's at 53 to 54 percent, so it gives you an idea of the challenge that they present. They're a group that is athletic. They are going to play fast. They are the most efficient team in our league in transition, so there are a number of things that we have to be good at defensively to give ourselves a chance.

On defense against Missouri:

We will do what we always do in most every game. We will mix and match and see what is the best. I don't think you will see a steady diet of any one thing because they are too good. From a size standpoint, they can play over the top of us, if we went primarily with man defense, but I don't think you can sit in a zone because they're too proficient from 3.

On the Missouri game being a resume-building opportunity for the NCAA Tournament:

We knew it was going to be a big week for us. We knew going into Rupp was going to be difficult, and I know coming home against Missouri is going to be difficult. That's why you're in the SEC. That's why you play big-boy basketball to have these opportunities. We have been better with a 4-0 record at home in league play. We have to continue that trend if we have any hopes of playing meaningful basketball once we get into the postseason.

On Martavious Newby:

He's out of the cast, and he has begun his rehab process. As is typical with kids who are playing high-level SEC sports, he heals pretty quickly. The doctors will give you the landscape for the people they typically deal with and then you can usually accelerate that, and Martavious is no exception. Our anticipation is that if he continues to progress the way he has once rehabilitation has started, hopefully we can have him back sooner rather than later. He's a big void and you see his toughness, coming up with loose balls and he gives us a matchup on the perimeter defensively that we miss.

On winning on the road in the SEC:

Coming into this past week, I think Ken Pomeroy said that the SEC had the most games of any league that were decided by four points or less, or overtime, which shows you it's a balanced league. It's a company line, and it's one the SEC has not been able to shake for a couple of years. It's an easy company line. I do think there is a bias in the national media because they get tired of talking about the SEC because it dominates in football, and they get tired of it. When there's an opportunity to talk about something else, that's what they're going to do. 

Kentucky loses on the road to LSU, which is a very good basketball team, in a competitive game, and then they go and win at Missouri. And Missouri has beaten West Virginia, Northwestern, at NC State and UCLA, and they didn't lose a non-league home game. Kentucky goes in there and wins, and they still drop seven spots in the poll. The mindset is kind of crazy. 

Our league, it will start shaking out in the next two or three weeks. You will start seeing the pretenders from the contenders, and that will be the case in any league. The Big Ten has done a job like everybody does of eating their own. You have teams that were undefeated before league play and they lose three, four or five in a row. It happens at this time of year. 

I don't get too caught up in that with my group because we have to find a way to get better. Let's get better and improve. I can't be a big-picture thinker with this group. It's not productive. For us, it's about getting better. It's about figuring out what we did right for 15 to 20 minutes against Kentucky and what went wrong, and let's correct those things and let's try to make an improvement Saturday.

On that bias carrying over into the NCAA Tournament committee room:

I don't think so. I think those people don't get caught up in that. We all deal with human nature. The numbers are going to say what the numbers are going to say. The numbers on that piece of paper have to make sense, and if they make sense, then our league will be properly represented. 

Think about last year. We obviously knew we had to work to do going into Nashville. There were two teams that went into Nashville that were probably safe regardless with Florida being one and Missouri being the other. Missouri finished fifth or sixth in our league. However, similar to what they have done this year, their non-league had enough pop where they were good. 

Everybody else -- us, obviously, Tennessee still had an opportunity to play their way in, Alabama was still in the conversation, and certainly Kentucky was. There were only two that were in regardless of what happened in Nashville, but there were still six in play. It just so happens that Kentucky got beat by Vanderbilt, which was a "bad loss," so they're out. Tennessee and Alabama happened to play one another, but the loser got immediately eliminated, and then the other lost the next round to Florida. We were the only one that wiggled our way through. We went in with an opportunity for six. 

Let's say Kentucky would have beaten Vanderbilt, and if we would have beaten them, they're probably still in, and we would have probably had to have beaten them to get in. There's so much still in play, and that was when Kentucky was not considered a Final Four contender because of the Nerlens Noel injury.

The Kentucky team that I saw Tuesday night was the Kentucky team that many people projected them to be when they named them preseason number one in the country. Those kids are growing up, and when Willie Cauley-Stein plays the way he did, and the Harrison twins are really getting better. They're so long. That's what blew me away. Things that we can typically do against other people, their length made up for that on Tuesday, and it made it problematic.

On excuses being made to say the SEC is down:

It's a mindset. For instance, the Big East. When the Big East turns to basketball, the attention turns to that in November. There's not a lot of thought put into basketball until about now. It's the nature of the geography, the communities that you're in and because of the dominance of football. 

You can't feed two masters a lot of times. Many times, we're a slow build. When Missouri loses to Georgia, it's considered bad, even though it's very, very difficult to win on the road in the league. Going into this last week, Florida and us were the only teams in the league with multiple road wins. It's difficult to win in any league. 

For us, we're going to have opportunities. The league is sitting in a much better place today than it was at this time last year. The biggest reason being even the teams at the bottom, it's not so much weighty at the bottom. We had two or three 200-plus RPI teams last year, and we lost to a couple of them. As a result, it makes the climb very, very difficult to get up and out of. 

This year, that's not the case. Even though we have teams that have not performed as well as they have liked, their numbers don't indicate that. Take Vanderbilt, for instance, and Kevin (Stallings) has done a masterful job. People think they're down because of their injuries and the attrition that they have suffered, yet you look today, and they're in the 60's in the RPI. That win at Vanderbilt, even though you say it's not the Vanderbilt they had two years, granted, the numbers still give you some life.

On what Ole Miss did well in those 15 to 20 minutes against Kentucky:

Number one, we were moving the ball better. We got really stagnant in the second half, and then we got into trying to make a play without moving the defense. Their size ate us up, and we could not get clean looks. And the ones we got, we were looking for a 10-point shot as opposed to staying within the rhythm of the offense. 

And then you don't get stops. They shot 60 percent against us in the second half. We did not get a defensive rebound until Janari (Joesaar) came in and got one that hit off the side of the rubber part of the backboard. That was the first time a Rebel got a rebound in the second half. We had some dead-ball rebounds, but we did not have a clean defensive rebound until under two minutes to go in the second half.

On limited opportunities for resume-building wins:

We have Missouri, and they're in the low 50's in the RPI, and they're a quality team. We have Kentucky coming back in here, and you have Florida, who's in the top five and might come in here number one in the nation, so you have your opportunities. We still have Vanderbilt coming back in this building, and they're sitting in the 60's in the RPI, so there are opportunities for us. We have to play better and we have to earn our way in. That's the only way it should be, and that's the way it is.

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