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Virginia Tech (21-13, 9-7 ACC) vs. Ole Miss (23-10, 7-9 SEC)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008, 7:00


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Game Preview:  Virginia Tech is one victory away from heading to Madison Square Garden for the semifinals of the NIT. To get there, they'll have to knock off their most formidable opponent thus far in the tournament: the Ole Miss Rebels.

Ole Miss is 23-10 overall and had a 7-9 mark during SEC play. They had a chance to make the NCAA tournament by making a decent run during the SEC tournament, but they were upset in their first game by eventual tournament champion Georgia. The Rebels are a good basketball team that has defeated NCAA tournament teams Mississippi Valley State, South Alabama, Winthrop, Clemson, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Arkansas and Georgia. They are also 5-3 against teams in the RPI Top 50.

The only thing that kept Ole Miss out of the Big Dance is the fact that they had a 7-9 record in SEC play. The reason they had a below .500 record in conference is because they can't play on the road. The Rebels were just 1-7 in SEC road games. They didn't pick up a road win until the last game of the regular season, when they won at hapless Georgia (hapless until the SEC tournament, at least).

Their performance on the road doesn't bode well, as they must travel to Virginia Tech to play in easily the toughest atmosphere the NIT has to offer. The winner of this game will face either Ohio State or Dayton in the NIT semifinals.

Ole Miss Starting Lineup
Pos Player Ht Wt Year PPG RPG Assists
G Chris Warren 5-11 170 Fr. 15.5 2 147
G David Huertas 6-5 195 So. 10.4 3.7 65
G Eniel Polynice 6-5 200 So. 10.9 5.4 124
F Kenny Williams 6-8 240 Sr. 8.4 6.6 31
C Dwayne Curtis 6-8 262 Sr. 15 9.4 34

The Rebels have a very balanced scoring lineup, led by All-SEC Freshman Chris Warren. Warren is a very good young guard who led his team in scoring this season. Like many of his teammates, he likes to shoot the outside jumper. Warren was 94-of-245 (38.4%) on the season from three-point range. He is just two makes away from the Ole Miss season record.

Warren is also a good distributor of the ball, dishing out 147 assists on the year. However, he can be prone to turnovers at time, with 92 turnovers on the season.

Warren is the head of a 3-guard lineup that also features David Huertas and Eniel Polynice. Their production is similar, but Polynice is a better passer, while Huertas is a better shooter from the outside. Heurtas has attempted 192 three-pointers this year, hitting 66 of them for a 34.2% clip.

As a team, Ole Miss has attempted 705 three-pointers this season. That's even more than UAB, whom we saw take 17 three-pointers in Cassell Coliseum on Monday night. The Rebels can beat anybody when they get hot from the outside. But what are their chances of getting hot in Cassell?

On the road this year, Ole Miss is shooting 30.5% from the outside. Their overall percentage from the outside is 36.2%, so they shoot much worse on the road than at home. Over their past three road games, they are just 14-of-62 from the outside, a 22.6% mark.

Despite not shooting it great from the outside on the road, the Rebels won't stop shooting it from long range. They have attempted at least 17 three-pointers in each of their road games this season.

Unlike UAB, Ole Miss has an inside game to fall back on. It is led by senior center Dwayne Curtis, who checks in at 6-8, 262. He is averaging nearly a double-double, at 15 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. 143 of his 311 rebounds have come on the offensive glass. Virginia Tech must box out, because Curtis can easily turn a missed three-pointer into two points.

The Rebels don't have a great deal of depth. Two of their starters play over 31 minutes per game, and the other three play at least 25. They only have three backups who log over nine minutes per game. It's a possibility that they could wear down, especially since they played an overtime game against Nebraska on Monday night, and then had to turn right around and fly to Roanoke on Tuesday.

If this is a close game, or the Hokies find themselves a little behind late, fouling would be the right course of action. Ole Miss is just a 65.7% free throw shooting team on the season. If the Hokies can funnel the ball into the hands of wing guard Eniel Polynice, he would be the perfect target. He is just a 50.6% free throw shooter.

VT vs. Ole Miss
Category VT Ole Miss Advantage
FG% 44.10% 45.90% Ole Miss
FG% Defense 40.50% 43.20% VT
3-Pt.% 33.80% 36.20% Ole Miss
3-Pt.% Defense 33.90% 34.90% VT
FT% 68.40% 65.70% VT
Rebounding Margin +4.9 +5.6 Ole Miss
Turnover Margin +0.3 +1.1 Ole Miss
Assist/TO Ratio 0.9 1.2 Ole Miss
Scoring Offense 70.1 79.7 Ole Miss
Scoring Defense 64.2 72.7 VT

As usual, Virginia Tech does not hold the advantage in the statistical categories. However, you can throw the stats out the window when you consider not only how Ole Miss plays on the road, but how the Hokies have been playing lately, especially in Cassell Coliseum.

The perfect example is three-point shooting. Tech wasn't a good three-point shooting team for much of the year, but over the last six games, the Hokies are 43-of-101, good for 42.6%. In their last three home games, the Hokies are 26-of-57, a 45.6% mark. Malcolm Delaney, A.D. Vassallo, and even Deron Washington have been scorching the nets recently.

Given how well Tech plays at home, and how poorly Ole Miss plays on the road, you've got to consider that the Hokies are the strong favorite for tonight's game. Tech has never lost a home game in the NIT (an interesting bit of trivia -- Ole Miss has only lost one home NIT game in their history: Virginia Tech eliminated Ole Miss from the 1982 NIT with a second-round 61-59 win in Oxford). If the Hokies can stay perfect for one more game, they'll move on to Madison Square Garden.