Mississippi Rebels (10-1 SU, 5-2 ATS) vs. West Virginia Mountaineers (8-0 SU, 3-4 ATS), 7:30 p.m. EST, Wednesday, December 23, 2009, WVU Coliseum, Morgantown, W.V. TV: ESPN2
by Ryno of Predictem.com
Point Spread: Mississippi +11/West Virginia -11
When Mississippi and West Virginia met last season in Oxford, it was a tight battle the whole way through that came down to a pair of Alex Ruoff free throws to give West Virginia the victory. On Wednesday, it should be just as good as last year when these two top 15 teams meet in Morgantown.
West Virginia is billed as a Final Four contender this year and the Mountaineers have played that way so far, starting off 8-0. They haven’t really been tested too much yet other than a couple of wins over Texas A&M and Portland, and a down-to-the-wire two-point victory over Cleveland State on Saturday.
Ole Miss was expected to be solid this season and a contender in the SEC West, but most did not expect the Rebels to be ranked quite this high. They’ve started the season with a 10-1 record with their only loss coming to Villanova on a neutral court. The Rebels haven’t had many tests either, but they do have some nice wins over Kansas State, Indiana and UTEP.
The Mountaineers are a tough team to match up with because of their length, athleticism and versatility. Almost every player on the team can play multiple positions. The Mountaineers are led by the duo of combo forwards Da’Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks. Both players can post up down low or play on the perimeter, and both players are long and athletic. Butler is averaging 16.9 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game, while Ebanks is averaging 10.8 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Ebanks missed the first four games of the season and hasn’t really played up to his expectations yet this year. He is shooting just 37.5 percent from the field, a very poor percentage, especially for someone who spends most of the time around the basket.
Kevin Jones has been the biggest pleasant surprise for Bob Huggins this season. The 6-foot-8 versatile forward, who also can play down low or step out and hit long jumpers, is averaging 15.5 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. Darryl Bryant, West Virginia’s starting point guard, is averaging 10.6 points and 4.2 assists per game but is shooting just 35.8 percent from the field. Huggins picked up another scoring option this season with the addition of junior college transfer guard Casey Mitchell, who is averaging 8.3 points per game. But he is yet another Mountaineer struggling to shoot the ball at 31.4 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3-point land. Mitchell and backup point guard Joe Mazzulla are both questionable for Wednesday’s game with injuries.
Ole Miss has an excellent backcourt combination of Chris Warren and Terrico White. Warren is a very good ball-handler with the ability to dish out assists (3.5 per game) and take on the scoring load (team-leading 18.3 points per game). White is a strong 6-foot-5 shooting guard who likes to drive to the basket but is also a capable outside shooter. He is averaging 16.6 points per game. Murphy Holloway, Eniel Polynice and Zach Graham are all averaging between 10 and 11.8 points per game. Holloway is just 6-foot-7 but is leading the team with 7.1 rebounds per game. The Rebels have two other big men – 6-foot-9, 260-pound DeAundre Cranston and 6-foot-8 freshman Reginald Buckner – who will get minutes in the frontcourt.
Ole Miss will often play four guards and just one big man, but luckily for them the Mountaineers don’t have many true big men either. The only real big man they play is Danny Jennings, a 6-foot-8, 260-pound freshman. When Jennings or Cranston comes into the game, the opposite player will likely come in right away to guard each other. The Mountaineers are carried by their frontcourt while the Rebels are carried by their backcourt. It will be interesting to see which wins out, but it could be the Rebels frontcourt or the Mountaineers backcourt that decides the winner. Ole Miss has to force West Virginia to use the entire shot clock and take tough shots because the Mountaineers are not shooting very well this season. West Virginia has to step up on the drives by Warren and White and stop them from getting to the basket.
Ryno’s Pick: West Virginia is a great team, especially at home, so the Rebels will have to do a lot of things right to win this game. But the Rebels are certainly capable of doing so. This was a tight matchup last year and these teams haven’t changed much since then. Warren and White should be able to keep the Rebels in the game and make it a tight battle once again. Take Mississippi +11.