After a string of six home games, Andy Kennedy’s squad will take to the road Saturday when they take on the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders at the Murphy Athletic Center. The home stand was extremely kind to the Rebels as they remain one of the twenty unbeaten teams left in college hoops and rank in the top ten in turnover margin (1st), opponent’s field goal percentage (2nd), scoring offense (2nd), point margin (2nd), rebounds per game (7th), steals per game (8th), and three-point field goal defense (10th).While only two of the Rebel victories have come over teams with winning records (UALR and Rutgers), the domination the Rebels have exhibited is still impressive.
MTSU has also gotten off to a good start in their 12th season under head coach and Mississippi State graduate Kermit Davis, Jr. Despite losing LaRon Dendy, their leading scorer and rebounder, the Blue Raiders are 6-2 and are looking for their first marquee win of the season. Davis hasn’t shied away from top competition during his tenure at MTSU, typically scheduling multiple SEC teams each season. Last year was no exception as the 27-7 Blue Raiders blew out UCLA by 20 and Ole Miss by 12 before losing a tight one at Vanderbilt.
This game delivers the Rebels an opportunity for revenge after a lackluster showing in Desoto last season. MTSU won 68-56 as the Rebels committed 21 turnovers and failed to put a player in double-figures. This season’s matchup looks a little different as both teams lost their scoring forward and have gotten smaller. Last year the Rebels took just 11 three-pointers, making 3 of them. Marshall Henderson could very well surpass both of those numbers in the first half.
The Blue Raiders start four senior guards and a junior forward, and while they will face less size than they did last week against Rutgers, the increased speed could pose problems. The truest point guard they have is Tweety Knight, a junior who provides a spark off the bench. Knight splits time at point with Bruce Massey, Jr. who has yet to get going this season. The senior is shooting 30.6 percent from the field and is averaging just 2.8 assists per game.
The name of the Rebels game Saturday will be pressure. There will be lots of pressure on Massey to get make the right decision and not turn the ball over. There will also be a lot of pressure on Tweety Knight’s big brother and the Blue Raiders’ leading scorer, Marcos Knight. Averaging 13.1 ppg and 6.1 rpg, Marcos Knight has filled in where Dendy left off as MTSU’s do-it-all. He’s athletic and likes to get to the rim. This will be Nick Williams’ matchup and opportunity to show that he can play defense against another large guard.
While Marcos Knight lives and dies by penetration, MGCCC transfer Raymond Cintron treats the paint like a cat does water. 42 out of Cintron’s 57 field goal attempts this season have been from beyond the arc, making 16 of them. This will be a good matchup for Henderson as Cintron is not a very good defender, so expect a lot of open looks. Henderson has applied good pressure lately and he will have to against Cintron.
UTEP transfer Jason Jones is a guard/forward hybrid at 6’6 and should give Murohy Holloway no problems on the glass. Despite being just an inch taller, Holloway has emerged as one of the elite rebounders in the country while Jones averages a paltry 1.9 rpg. You might see Snoop White come in to take Jones while Holloway defends Knight with help provided by Reginald Buckner. Jones does not shoot much, but when he does it is from close range and of a high percentage. With the presence of Holloway and Buckner inside, he may have trouble finding shots.
Forward Shawn Jones appears to have a little Buckner flavor to him. Jones averages 10.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg, and shoots 48.6 percent from the line while Buckner is averaging 10.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg, and is a 50 percent free throw shooter. Jones is the better offensive rebounder with an impressive 23 offensive boards, while Buckner is the much better defender with 2.8 bpg and 1.8 spg. With a very similar build, this will be an interesting matchup.
This is a catalyst game for both teams. Ole Miss, who hasn’t made the tournament in a decade, cannot afford a loss to a Sun Belt opponent come resume time, and will likely need a win over either San Diego State or Arizona in Hawaii. MTSU plays three SEC teams this year, hvaing already been blown out by Florida, if the Blue Raiders wish to make their first trip to the Big Dance since 1989, they will need to either win their conference tournament or defeat both Ole Miss and Vanderbilt for there to be any hope.
Everyone knows Kennedy can win at home, and everyone knows that he can win in November. What he needs to do is prove that he can win on the road in December, where he is 7-7 since taking over as the coach at Ole Miss. Game time is set for 4 p.m. CT on Saturday.