January 29, 2013
It may be the most important game of the year to date. Kentucky's already slim margin for making the NCAA Tournament could get a big boost with a win over No. 16 Ole Miss. It would finally get the Wildcats, ranked No. 62 in the latest NCAA RPI rankings, their first marquee win -- something Julius Mays said last week the players know they need to get. How can it get done? Here's three key factors.
1) How well can Marshall Henderson be defended? He's going to shoot the ball -- he averages 10.9 three-point attempts per game and has attempted at least six in every single game this year. The Cats need somebody -- Archie Goodwin, probably -- to take on the difficult task of chasing him through and around screens, and the rest of the team has to help out to limit how many clean looks Henderson gets.
But because Henderson will shoot, almost no matter what, much of this game will come down to natural variance. He's not very accurate from long range -- making just 35.7 percent -- so both a hot or cold night are entirely possible and would be a huge determining factor.
2) Ole Miss is opportunistic. The Rebels are good at creating extra chances for themselves via offensive rebounds and turnovers, and they're elite at converting them. Ole Miss averages 16.2 second-chance points per game, most of any team in the major conferences, and 20.1 points off turnovers per game, third-most among major conference schools, according to ESPN.
The Cats will have to crash the boards and take care of the ball. If they don't, Ole Miss is sure to make them pay.
3) How much can Cauley-Stein help, if he goes? The freshman center is officially a game-time decision, but this seems like it would be the game to go, if at all possible. He and Noel were playing more often together on the court, so how he's mixed back into the rotation -- and how effective he can be coming off an injury and three games away from the court -- will be something to watch.
If he can play, the Cats will need him to help on Ole Miss' two primary forwards, Murphy Holloway (14.8 points, 10.4 rebounds per game) and Reginald Buckner (9.9 points, 7.9 rebounds). Adding another player would at least help from a fouling perspective: we saw Alex Poythress limited to 15 minutes against Alabama because of foul trouble, and Ole Miss has been the best team in the league at drawing fouls since SEC play began. The Rebels have an experienced, talented frontcourt, and UK needs all the players it can to counter that.