After the LSU win, every Texas A&M basketball preview has generally had the same slant:
We have more talent, but they are good at X. If we stop X and play to our ability, we'll be fine.
Tonight's game is not that simple. Tonight, we're playing a quality team with some impressive SEC victories (@Arkansas, Florida) and a similar penchant for scaring the daylights out of Kentucky (86-89 loss in overtime at Rupp).
Ole Miss is for real, and Joe Lunardi's latest Bracketology has the Rebels in Dayton as a play-in game 11 seed.
They score, they rebound, and as far as I can tell... they don't have any glaring weaknesses. It's a solid team, folks, and this is their biggest game of the year to date as well. We need a Tennessee-level effort to win this one.
Let's break it down.
1) Transfers are fun.
We aren't the only squad bolstered by new transfers. Stefan Moody, the 5-10 guard by way of FAU, is tearing it up for the Rebels this year. He's not always efficient, but he's got that "NBA volume scorer" edge to his game, where you hold him to 3-11 from the field and then he hits a couple of late threes and somehow has 20.
He launches bombs, he attacks the rim, and he's dang near automatic from the line. Moody is 32-34 from the stripe in his last five games, including four straight games (26-26) without a miss. He'll get his points (15.4 PPG; 7th in the SEC).
2) So, they really aren't bad at anything?
- Scoring - 74.0 PPG (4th in the SEC)
- Rebouding - 37.7 RPG (5th in the SEC)
- 3PT Shooting - 34% (6th in the SEC)
- Assists - 13.0 APG (8th in the SEC)
- Turnovers - 11.9 TPG (2nd fewest in the SEC, tied with A&M)
Admittedly, they trend towards the bottom of the conference in steals (11th) and fouls (12th)... but that's pretty much it. And those steals/fouls numbers don't really tell the whole story. When you watch Ole Miss play, they pass the eyeball test defensively. You never feel like there's a certain area you can attack. Oh, and there's one more thing.
3) Freedom isn't free.
Deep down, we knew this day was coming. We knew that someday our Texas Aggies (64% FT shooting, dead last in the SEC) would meet their polar opposite.
That day is today. The Rebels' (80%) aren't just the best free throw shooting team in the SEC... they are the best free throw shooting team in the nation. They have three players (Stefan Moody - 92%; Ladarius White - 79%; Jarvis Summers 78%) well above our best free shooter (Jalen Jones - 71%), and they get to the line often. All signs point to the game being close, and close games are typically won with free throw shooting.
So, I said this is the biggest game of the year to date... does that mean it's a must-win? No, it doesn't. Which is admittedly counter-intuitive. It would be really nice to have, but unlike our games against less-talented squads, it's not necessary. If we lose, we'll have a 6-3 record (tied in 2nd place) with three upcoming games at Reed sandwiched between road tilts at squads in the bottom five. We'll still have everything to play for.
A win, on the other hand........ holy cow. The good guys would add a seventh straight victory to their name, they'd add some clear separation from the group clogging the middle of the standings, and (assuming no disaster on the road at Mizzou) would hit the biggest three game homestretch in a long time with a comfortable AP ranking.
Yes, a ranking. The thing with the pound sign and a number equal to or less than 25. Next to our name.
To quote fellow basketball guru @DerekAggie06, we would be at full #peepants.
So tonight... don't bring the BAS to the table. Because the schedule after this game sets up nicely. Tonight, quite simply, we have nothing to lose.
For the skimmers, here's a quick recap in gif form
If things go well
If they don't go well
BTHO Ole Miss