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2015 NCAA Tournament: 11 Ole Miss vs. 11 BYU Preview

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The Rebels have a tough first game against the high powered Cougars.

Dak Dillon-USA TODAY Sports

11 BYU Cougars vs. 11 Ole Miss Rebels

9:10 p.m. ET, TruTV

Ole Miss backed itself into the tournament, having lost four-of-five including a disappointing SEC Tournament loss to South Carolina. Had the Rebels simply beat the Gamecocks, they're in all likelihood not stuck playing in the First Four at all. The losses to Georgia and LSU in that span were forgivable, and even the one to Vandy wasn't all that bad. The fall in the SEC Tournament speaks ill of this team's ability to stay focused and finish the season strongly.

BYU, on the other hand, had to play its way into the tournament down the stretch. After losing at Pepperdine to begin February, the Cougars won eight-of-nine. The sole loss was to South 2-seed Gonzaga, but crucially, one of the wins came against the Zags as well. Given that this team is in the First Four, that road win in Spokane is probably the main reason that BYU made it into the tournament at all.

Style Matchup

Both teams in this game are heavy on offense while being a bit lighter on defense.

BYU comes in ranked 31st in the KenPom ratings, while Ole Miss is 44th. The Cougars' offensive rating in the same is 9th in the country, while the Rebels' offense is rated 22nd. Conversely, BYU comes up No. 139 in defense, while Ole Miss fares a little better at 124.

BYU scores 11 more points a game than Ole Miss does, but that's because it plays at a much faster pace. The Cougars go at an average of 70.4 possessions per 40 minutes, good for 9th most in the country. Ole Miss only averages 66.4 possessions per 40 minutes, or 95th nationally. BYU is also more efficient, scoring 1.121 points per possession compared to Ole Miss's 1.049.

Comparable Opponents

BYU has played two teams in Ole Miss's neighborhood in the KenPom ratings, meaning plus or minus ten spots in the rankings. The Cougars also played five other games against teams rated as better than the Rebels.

Opponent Site KenPom Seed Result
SDSU N 27 S8 L 92-87, 2OT
Purdue N 49 MW9 L 87-85, OT
Utah H 8 S5 L 65-61
Stanford H 48 - W, 79-77
Gonzaga H 6 S2 L, 87-80
Gonzaga R 6 S2 W, 73-70
Gonzaga N 6 S2 L, 91-75

Both of the games against teams close to Ole Miss in quality were close, with one being a two-point win and the other being a two-point overtime loss. All of the games listed here were close, save the WCC Tournament final.

Ole Miss has played six games against opponents in BYU's neighborhood, one game against a team significantly better, plus seven more that are still not too far below where the Cougars are.

Opponent Site KenPom Seed Result
Cincinnati N 34 MW8 W, 66-54
Oregon R 46 W8 W, 79-73
Dayton R 40 E8 L, 78-74
Kentucky R 1 MW1 L, 89-86 OT
LSU H 43 E9 L, 75-71
Arkansas R 29 W5 W, 96-82
Georgia R 36 E10 L, 69-64
Florida H 45 - W, 72-71
Texas A&M H 50 - W, 69-59
Florida R 45 - W, 62-61
Arkansas H 29 W5 L, 71-70
Georgia H 36 E10 L, 76-72
LSU R 43 E9 L, 73-62
Vanderbilt H 47 - L, 86-77

In the comparables department, Ole Miss is fairly similar to BYU. The Rebels may have only won two out of the six games, but the losses were all by no more than two possessions. Arkansas is similar to BYU in terms of pace with 70.0 possessions per 40 minutes, good for ninth nationally to BYU's sixth. The Hogs are also much stronger in offense than defense, though Arkansas plays better defense than BYU does. The Rebels handled that mix without issue on the road and lost by just one at home in their two games against the Razorbacks.

Players to Watch

BYU has a couple players of note to keep your eyes on. The first is Tyler Haws, who is fourth in the country in averaging 21.9 points per game. He's also third in the country with 0.68 points per minute on the floor. March Madness is often a place where electric guards knock teams out of the bracket, and Haws fits that kind of profile.

The other important player is the versatile Kyle Collinsworth. The junior guard is the team's second-leading scorer with 14.0 points per game, the leading rebounder at 8.7, the leading assist man at 5.8 per game, and the leading thief with 1.8 steals per game. The only thing he doesn't do is block shots, basically. Notably, he has recorded six triple doubles this season. It's not only a new record for most in a season, it also tied the record for most in a career.

For the Rebels, everything starts with Stefan Moody, who leads the team with 16.3 points per game. He'll be trying to shake off his 3/15 shooting in the SEC Tournament loss to South Carolina where he scored just eight points. It was only the fifth time he had been held to single digits this year, but one of the other times was in the building where this game will take place when he had just six in the Rebels's loss at Dayton.

Moody's running buddy all year has been Jarvis Summers, who is second in scoring at 12.4 points per game and leads the team with 4.6 assists per game. Sebastian Saiz anchors the middle, grabbing a team-high 5.4 rebounds per game while also leading in blocks at just under one per game.

This is Andy Kennedy's second trip to the tournament, with the last coming two years ago when his Rebels upset 5-seed Wisconsin before losing to 13-seed LaSalle. This is Dave Rose's seventh trip to the tournament, where his record doesn't make a ton of sense. He's lost three different games as an 8-seed to a 9-seed, where the teams are supposed to be evenly matched, but he did win a First Four game in 2012. That win over Iona included setting the record for largest NCAA Tournament comeback ever, as the Cougars were down 25 before ending up on top. Rose is 0-4 against major conference teams in the tournament, failing to beat one even with Jimmer Fredette in BYU's Sweet 16 run in 2011. Of course, Kennedy is 0-1 against mid-majors in the tournament.

Final Prediction

It's hard to say what will happen given that these teams are coming into the game from completely different places. You can write a narrative favoring either one.

The pro-BYU story is that the Rebels are slumping at the worst time while the Cougars got hot at just the right time. If those trends continue, then look for BYU to win, potentially with ease. The pro-Ole Miss argument goes that the team relaxed down the stretch, figuring that they had their tournament spot locked up, while BYU had to scrap and claw just to get here. BYU might be feeling like it accomplished something simply getting to this game, while Ole Miss can finally turn the switch back on. In that case, the Rebels would likely win the game.

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, like it always is, but we won't know until after the opening tip. I have a feeling we're going to get something around what these teams' records against similar opponents would indicate: a close finish with both teams in at least the 70s, if not the 80s. It does concern me that Ole Miss didn't win a close game against its comparables while BYU did.

Ole Miss didn't look like a tournament team at the end of the non-conference season, so it's been a credit to Kennedy that the team did make it this far. I just have a bad feeling that this is as far as they'll go.

BYU 81, Ole Miss 78