After surviving a stretch that saw the Lions on the road for 4 out of their last 5 games, Penn State returns to the BJC for the marquee home match-up of this year's non-conference schedule. The 6-1 Ole Miss Rebels come to State College on the return trip of a one-and-one series that started last year. Their one lone loss so far was a bad one (96-66) to a good Marquette squad at the Paradise Jam. They've beaten a talented Miami FL team at home in OT and survived at DePaul Thursday, 70-68.
If you recall last season's contest, Penn State was torched on defense in Oxford, as they gave up 1.42 PPP in an 84-71 loss. The Rebels made 13 three pointers and shot at 64.4% eFG%. Trevor Gaskins hit a career-high 6 treys on his way to 24 points, and their star point guard Chris Warren chipped in 20 points and 3 treys. The good news for Penn State is both of these guys have left Mississippi and so has their three point shooting. Through 7 games, Ole Miss has made just 20.7% of their threes, which puts them at 341st in 3P%.
But the Rebels are still a difficult match-up for PSU. They fit the bill as your typical SEC basketball team. They have plenty of athleticism and raw ability, but little skill and shooting touch. Their talented front-line will give PSU all they can handle on the glass. They rank in the Top100 in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage (as does Penn State).
Chris Warren's graduation left the Rebels without their leading scorer, but they have four players averaging in double-digits so far this season. The biggest impact player has been 6-7 Murphy Holloway, who was granted a transfer waiver from the NCAA after transferring back to Ole Miss over the summer. He originally played his first two years for the Rebels before transferring to South Carolina in 2010-2011. He cited family issues as his reason for departing Oxford, but those issues have since been resolved apparently. After never suiting up for the Gamecocks, he returned to Andy Kennedy's squad and has been averaging a double-double with 11.6 PPG and 10.4 RPG. He went coast-to-coast off a loose ball at the end of the Depaul game to score the winning basket.
Among the other double-digit scorers are 6-9 SR Terrance Henry (11.0 PPG and 5.0 RPG), former IU transfer Nick Williams (10.3 PPG), and SO PG Dundrecous Nelson (11.6 PPG and 2.1 SPG). Reginald Buckner, a 6-9 JR, returned from a minor knee injury against DePaul and put up 9 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 blocks. Buckner is primarily a rebounder and shot-blocking off the bench but he's been very productive in this role (7.8 RPG and 2.4 BPG). True freshman Jarvis Summers adds size at PG at 6-4. He has started their last three games with Nelson coming off the bench and is averaging 9.0 PPG and 2.9 APG.
The Rebels' offense relies on their athleticism as they will attack the rim off the bounce. I expect to see a lot of 2-3 zone from Penn State to force Ole Miss into settling for jumpers. The keys will be rebounding out of the zone and staying out of foul trouble for PSU to be successful. I hope to see 3-5 charges forced from Penn State's help defense today. Offensively, as usual, PSU will need to make jump shots. Ole Miss has been very good defensively so far and has been one of the best shot-blocking teams in the country. It seems unlikely PSU will have much success inside in the half-court, but anything they can get from Sasa or Ross would be welcomed.
I don't like this match-up on paper for Penn State, but that doesn't mean they won't have a chance to win. If guys like Cam Woodyard and Ross Travis hold their own on the glass, and they get perimeter contributions from Trey Lewis and Billy Oliver, PSU will put up a fight. A complete game from Tim Frazier, your national leader in assist rate, would go a long way, as well.
A 6:00 PM tilt on a Sunday doesn't leave much hope for attendance. With the students returning from an exhausting canning weekend, I don't think a basketball game will be on their minds. It's a shame, but I doubt there will be much of a home-court advantage tonight.