After reaching a fever pitch to start the conference season, Ole Miss (18-5, 7-3) has come crashing back down to Earth. The Rebels have lost three of their last four by a combined 46 points. The losses were marred made even worse by the fight in Columbia, the injury to Aaron Jones, and the fall from the graces of every bracketologist.
Andy Kennedy’s team will have to put all of that behind them as they have a favorable upcoming schedule that they will have to dominate. Ole Miss has eight games remaining in the regular season and their opponents’ combined SEC record is 33-49. There are no more true RPI boosters left, aside from maybe a home date with Alabama, so they will have to run the table in convincing manner. That starts Wednesday night with a road game against Texas A&M.
The Aggies (14-9, 4-6) have been a few plays away from being in contention in the SEC. They have beaten the likes of Kentucky and Missouri, but have dropped five games by single-digits. That includes their latest contest against Georgia that saw A&M shoot 24 percent from the field. Aside from star Elston Turner, the Aggies have been anemic all season on offense, ranking 280th in the country with 62.7 ppg.
Marshall Henderson’s first return to the state of Texas since his days at South Plains Community College is not the only storyline involving a shooter in this game. Elston, A&M’s leading scorer at 15.6 ppg, is the product of one of the greatest basketball players in Ole Miss history, Elston Turner Sr. The elder Turner played eight seasons in the NBA and in 1981 led Ole Miss to their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. The younger Turner started his career at Washington as a reserve before transferring to College Station. He has been a big part of the program since his arrival, including a 40-point outing in a road win over Kentucky last month.
The rest of the starting five is a group of good, if not spectacular, role players. Guard Fabyon Harris is second on the team in points with 11.5 ppg and is shooting a high percentage from the field at 46.6 percent.
The forwards, Ray Turner and Kourtney Roberson, are a couple of stout 6’9 rebounders who make the most out of their offensive opportunities down low. Ray Turner is averaging 9.7 ppg on 53.2 percent shooting, while grabbing 5.9 rpg. Roberson is averaging an even higher mark at 58.8 percent, contributing 6.9 ppg and 6.8 rpg.
True freshman and hometown local, Alex Caruso, runs the point for the Aggies. His offensive productivity is limited but he is very quick and long on defense. Caruso averages 2.1 steals per game and recorded 5 against Georgia on Saturday.
Once you get past the starters, A&M is very thin. They have won this season when they have not had to dive into their bench, something Ole Miss will have to force them to do. You will likely see a lot more slashing out of Jarvis Summers and Snoop White to bait the Aggies into fouling.
Henderson and Murphy Holloway will have to find their rhythm again so they can gain momentum heading into the postseason. It certainly helps that Reginald Buckner avoided a suspension as the depth on the front line is not ideal. A win for Ole Miss could send them catapulting toward a run and a loss could work in the other direction. This is a big game for both teams with postseason implications. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. at Reed Arena in College Station.