Perhaps the shortest summary of Ole Miss comes from their coach Renee Ladner,
"We are small in number, but big in heart. Only having two players back this season that
have playing experience, Kayla Melson and Nikki Byrd, presents a challenge in itself," Ladner said. "However, our newcomers are young, but talented. Our returnees are anxious to see playing time. Hopefully, the combination of youth and experience will complement each other nicely."
There's obviously a bit of hyperbole at work, but the point is valid: Ole Miss is a team with plenty of new players on the roster. We remember that feeling well from two years ago, after having watching our 5 national-championship-winning starters all get taken in the WNBA draft and starting over with the Baby Vols. Unfortunately for Ole Miss, they get their first road SEC trip against a Tennessee team that appears to finally be living up to their potential.
You may have to excuse Mississippi this year; their roster includes 2 seniors, 3 juniors, 4 sophomores, and 5 freshmen. With that underclassmen-heavy crew, it's no small wonder that two freshmen are regular starters for the Lady
Rebels Bears Rebels. It's also no small wonder that they have managed only modest wins against a relatively weak schedule (e.g. 69-64 vs. Jackson State and 64-60 vs. Nicholls State) and that they are 1-3 on the road, with losses to Central Michigan and South Alabama. You never want to label somebody else's team as in a rebuilding year, but it's hard to see this season as anything else for Mississippi.
The year hasn't been all bad news for Mississippi; their first SEC foray was a 72-67 home victory against Vanderbilt - a more talented and polished team that has only lost on the road to good teams. Additionally, rebounding is perhaps Mississippi's greatest advantage, with an average of nearly 44 rebounds per game. They also average only 13.9 fouls per game, a remarkably low number for a young team. However, much of the rebounding edge is explained by a dismal 38.7 FG% (25.7% from trey), leaving many opportunities for rebounds. Mississippi's youth has also caused issues with ball control; their A/TO ratio is 0.7, which is much lower than any team would like.
The biggest problem for Mississippi is obvious from the player stats in the table, though; like Alabama on Thursday, they give up a lot of size to the Lady Vols. It may seem even more dire that their tallest player, 6'-4" Miss "Playing Experience" Nikki Byrd, does not start for the Lady Rebs. She does tend to get subbed in within one to three minutes of game time in an apparent attempt to allow her to watch the opposing defense and avoid an early foul, so the height difference won't be quite as hideous as the table shows, but it's still tilted severely in favor of the Lady Vols. If either Baugh or Brewer are available, then Tennessee will be able to trot out a brutal post rotation that Mississippi cannot hope to match.
Tennessee simply has to keep doing what they've been doing recently: fight for the rebounds, take smart shots, keep the passing crisp and alive. If the uptick in Tennessee's recent play is indicative of a real shift in team behavior, then Ole Miss is catching the Lady Vols at the worst possible time with a young team still trying to find their way.
With all due respect to the Ole Miss players, my guess for the final score is: 105 - 64.