Miss. State at Ole Miss: Real season begins

OXFORD – Why not start things off with a bang?
SEC basketball play begins today with rivals Ole Miss and Mississippi State meeting at the Rebels’ Tad Smith Coliseum.
In addition to simply not liking one another the game is spiced by the addition of the favorites tag. The Rebels and Bulldogs were picked by SEC coaches as the leading contenders in the Western Division, MSU tabbed first and Ole Miss second.
Tipoff is 12:30, and the game will be televised as part of the SEC Network and aired in Northeast Mississippi on WCBI.
No. 14 Ole Miss enters 12-2, MSU at 12-3. The Rebels won 84-56 in their last game, Tuesday at home against Central Florida. MSU lost 55-52 at Western Kentucky.
The game matches MSU’s SEC-leading defense against the SEC’s No. 1 scoring team in Ole Miss.
“It’s a rivalry game, and it’s a great way to start SEC play at home. We want to come out strong,” Ole Miss forward Terrence Henry said.
Home court was no particular advantage to either team last season. They split the two-game series, each winning at the other’s place.
MSU won more recently, 82-80 on March 7 in Oxford. The Rebels were learning to play short-handed after a rash of injuries when they won 67-63 in Starkville last January.
“We got all our guys back now,” said junior guard Eniel Polynice, smiling.
Polynice was one of those guys unavailable last year, as were guards Chris Warren and Trevor Gaskins.
All three have gone through this series before, however. In fact, there’s only one newcomer to each side, Ole Miss freshman Reginald Buckner and MSU freshman Wendell Lewis, both post players expected to play off the bench today.

Matchup problems
Though Gaskins has struggled, Warren and Polynice have excelled for the Rebels. Polynice averages 10.6 points and leads the team in assists (4.6 apg) and steals (1.5 spg). Warren averages 16.9 points, second on the team and sixth in the SEC.
Terrico White averages 17.3 points, fourth in the SEC.
“You’ve got two problems with them in Warren and White. Those guys can really score, boy,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. “That’s as good a set of guards as there are not just in this league but in the country, and they have great depth coming off that bench.”
While Stansbury praises the Ole Miss backcourt, its the frontcourt matchup that could give the Rebels problems.
Ole Miss has been outrebounded soundly in each of its losses. MSU is second in the SEC with a plus-8.5 rebounding margin. Leading the way is center Jarvis Varnado, averaging a double-double with 14.3 points and 10.9 rebounds.
That doesn’t account for his SEC-leading 4.9 blocks a game.
“They’re a quality basketball team. Varnado in the middle is going to pose a challenge that we haven’t seen to this point, because he is the best shot-blocker in college basketball. He does change things defensively,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said.

Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or parrish.alford@djournal.com.

Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal