Riding the coattails of momentum, the Ole Miss Rebels (12-2, 1-0) will take on the No.10 Missouri Tigers (12-2, 1-0) with sole possession of first place in the SEC on the line. Ole Miss took down Tennessee on Wednesday night in a blowout 92-74 victory, their first in Knoxville in 22 years. On the other side, the Tigers made their SEC debut on Tuesday night against Alabama, beating down the Tide 84-68 in Columbia.
The milestone victory was not without casualties however, as Missouri lost Laurence Bowers who leads the team in scoring and is second in rebounds. The Memphis, Tenn. native sprained his MCL and will be out for at least two games, at Ole Miss and home against Georgia. Bowers missed all of last season with an ACL injury and this is a big loss now only in terms of production, but also the team’s psyche.
In a matchup between two of college basketball’s premier rebounding teams, the Tigers are going to need their reserve forwards to step up. Missouri leads the nation in rebounds per game with 45.3, 6.9 of those coming from Bowers. The Rebels are 14th in the country with 41.6 rpg, led by 11 rpg from Murphy Holloway.
Senior Alex Oriakhi leads the Tigers in rebounds with 8.9 rpg. Oriakhi also averages 10.6 ppg for the Tigers. At 6’9 and 255 Lbs., he is the most physical presence and will be a huge test for Holloway and Reginald Buckner down low. Without Bowers, he will have less space down low to operate and the Rebels will need good zone help to shut him down.
Mizzou has transferred in a pair of long guards that have caused havoc this season, especially against the Crimson Tide. Sophomore Jabari Brown scored 22 points on Tuesday and is averaging 13.8 ppg this season, good for second on the team. The Oregon-transfer was highly touted out of high school and is playing in just his sixth game with Missouri after having to mandatorily sit out. The other transfer is one who may be familiar to Rebel fans, Earnest Ross. The former Auburn standout is scored 19 points off the bench against former-rival Alabama and is averaging 10.4 ppg and 5.6 rpg.
The importance of those four players cannot be understated, but the real catalyst for the Tigers is star point guard Phil Pressey. The preseason conference player of the year set a Mizzou record with 13 assists against Alabama, improving his season average to 7.6 apg, tops in the SEC. At just 5’11, he uses his speed and low-center of gravity to create for the Tigers and they go as he goes. He can be turnover prone, which has been problematic. In Mizzou’s two losses, Pressey had 8 turnovers against Louisville and 5 against UCLA. Look for Jarvis Summers to check him up top to keep him honest and try to force some quick turnovers, along with Derrick Millinghaus to get a lot of minutes to keep up with Pressey’s speed.
This game is the first of only four true resume boosters for Ole Miss this season. The Rebels will also have chances at Missouri, at Florida, and home against Kentucky. A win here would go a long way for the Rebel’s dreams at the elusive lady of March. For Missouri, this is more of a game of damage control. Weathering the storm of Bowers’ injury on the road would be a good morale boost and could help keep their top seed aspirations alive. The game has been dubbed as “Sellout Saturday” and has fit the billing with no tickets currently available. Calling tonight’s atmosphere “electric” would be a disservice to the fans at the Tad Smith Coliseum. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. CT, the game can be seen on ESPN3 and FSN.