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NY Post
New York Post
6 Jan 2024

NextImg:Ole Miss vs. Tennessee prediction: College basketball odds, pick

We’re fully into college basketball conference play now.

March is right around the corner. 

That means we’re getting high-level college basketball games nightly and weekly. 

This tilt between Ole Miss and Tennessee counts as one. 

Chris Beard has worked magic in his debut year in Oxford, leading the Rebels to a perfect 13-0 non-conference record.

They haven’t played the most demanding schedule but boast three KenPom top-100 wins over NC State, Memphis and UCF. 

Tennessee still looks like an elite team, even if the Vols failed to beat their most elite non-conference opponents (Purdue, Kansas, North Carolina).

They still beat up everyone else and racked up two Quad 1 wins (Wisconsin, Illinois). 

Ole Miss is overvalued at 13-0, but I hesitate to think a battle between two defensive-minded teams will result in a blowout. 

(6 p.m. ET, SEC Network)

Tennessee boasts an elite defense. The Vols always will be an elite college basketball defense under Rick Barnes. 

But they still struggle to generate consistent offense.

They couldn’t outscore the elite offenses on their schedule, failing to reach 70 points against Purdue and Kansas. 

Their one consistent avenue to offense is using off-ball screens to pop open Dalton Knecht, who is scoring over 15 points per game and 1.1 PPP off screens (73rd percentile).

He’s a rock-solid three-level scorer with a deep bag and smooth shooting stroke. 

Here’s the problem: Ole Miss is the nation’s best off-ball screen defense. Seriously.

The Rebels are allowing only .35 PPP on those sets. Beard’s no-middle defensive scheme ices everything. 

Tennessee’s Jonas Aidoo is becoming an elite off-ball cutter.

Still, it’s hard to cut and get inside on Beard’s no-middle scheme, which viciously denies paint buckets behind two 7-foot interior defenders (Jamarion Sharp and Moussa Cisse) and two lengthy, athletic wing defenders (Jaemyn Brakefield and Allen Flanigan). 

Ole Miss is still very limited offensively, and the Rebels are due for significant shooting regression – they won’t shoot 40 percent from 3 forever. 

Nevertheless, I think they have some schematic advantages on offense. 

Ole Miss runs the floor in transition and scores in isolation in the half-court.

Meanwhile, Tennessee is merely an average transition (1.00 PPP allowed, 52nd percentile) and isolation (.77 PPP allowed, 49th percentile) defense. 

The Rebels also utilize off-ball screen actions in the half-court.

While Tennessee has been elite at defending those sets (.58 PPP allowed, 93rd percentile), ShotQuality believes that’s been smoke and mirrors, projecting significant regression based on the “quality” of attempts allowed (1.07 PPP allowed, 261st nationally). 

I suspect Tennessee will struggle to get Knecht and Aidoo rolling here.

Though I don’t believe in Ole Miss’ offense much, there are avenues to points for the Rebels. 

Ultimately, I’m betting this game in two ways.

I’m taking the points with Ole Miss and betting the Under. We should get a low-scoring rock fight that ends in an eight-to-10-point Tennessee victory. 

For what it’s worth, Ole Miss has covered three of its last four meetings with Tennessee, and five straight between these two have stayed well Under the closing total. 

Though the Rebels are a much different team under Coach Beard, these teams generally play low-scoring, close ballgames. 

Ole Miss +13 | Under 143