Jordan Tucker looks for an open move during a game this season. Butler plays at Ole Miss at 7 p.m. on Dec. 3. Xan Korman / Collegian file photo.
CHRIS BROWN | SPORTS EDITOR | firstname.lastname@example.org
After defeating Missouri and Stanford to win the Hall of Fame Classic and improve to 7-0 on the season, the Butler men’s basketball team found itself ranked in the Top 25 of the weekly AP College Basketball Poll for the first time since the end of the 2016-17 season.
The Bulldogs will look to improve to 8-0 to start the season for the first time since 2016 when they travel to Oxford, Mississippi, to take on the Ole Miss Rebels in their first true road game of the season. Here’s what you need to know heading into the matchup:
Who: No. 24 Butler (7-0) vs. Ole Miss (5-2)
When: Dec. 3, 7 p.m. EST
Where: The Pavilion at Ole Miss, Oxford, Mississippi
How to Watch/Listen: SEC Network, 93.5FM/107.5FM/1070AM
- Ole Miss comes into the matchup with a chip on its shoulder following a brutal loss
In their first game of the NIT Tip-Off Games on Nov. 27, the Rebels were outscored 43-27 by Penn State in the first half before mounting a second-half comeback to win 74-72. After scoring just 15 points in the first half against Oklahoma State in the first half in their next game on Nov. 29, Ole Miss could not mount another comeback. The Cowboys outscored the Rebels 44-22 in the second half and Ole Miss lost by 41 points, 78-37.
In three of the last four halves Ole Miss has played, they’ve been outscored by 15-plus points. Returning home for the first time since Nov. 19, the Rebels will have a chip on their shoulder as they look to regain their footing and avoid a third loss in four games.
In their first true road contest of the season, it’ll once again be crucial that the Bulldogs play a strong 40 minutes. Get off to a slow start, and climbing back won’t be easy. Jump out to an early lead and get too comfortable and the Rebels are more than capable of turning the tables in a hurry, as they’ve shown this year.
- The Rebels are a defensively aggressive team; Butler will need to work hard to control the tempo of this game
Ole Miss has forced 16.6 opponent turnovers per game this season, a mark 65th nationally and 2.5 more per game than the Bulldogs. Additionally, the Rebels’ 9.4 steals per contest rank second in the SEC and 32nd in the nation, and is substantially higher than Butler’s 5.9 steals per game. Two Ole Miss players are averaging two or more steals per game, while no Butler player is averaging more than 1.4 per contest.
Butler has done a great job of taking care of the basketball this season, with the team’s 9.4 turnovers per game tied for the third-best mark in the country, but the Rebels will likely provide a substantial test in that area. Only one team Butler has played this season – New Orleans – has forced more turnovers per game this season than Ole Miss.
With all that in mind, it will be essential for Butler to control the pace of this game and not let Ole Miss’s offense dictate the tempo. The Rebels are averaging just over 74 possessions per game, a mark in the top 100 nationally and far from Butler’s 349th ranking of just under 64 possessions per contest. Ole Miss undoubtedly has the ability to take control of a game in a hurry if the Bulldogs commit an uncharacteristic number of turnovers.
- Ole Miss defends the perimeter well, but the Bulldogs need to shoot well enough from deep to open interior space
The Rebels have held their opponents to just under 25% on 3-pointers this season, a mark in the top 10 nationally. While the Bulldogs haven’t relied on strong 3-point shooting to succeed this season like last year, they have shot a highly respectable 35% from deep this season and have multiple options from beyond the arc, including Sean McDermott and Jordan Tucker.
Butler likely won’t need to shoot extremely well on 3-pointers to win this game, but proving they can hit from deep early in the game could go a long way in opening up space down low for the likes of Bryce Nze and Bryce Golden to operate more freely and play inside-out basketball.