Ole Miss forward Tomasz Gielo has kept a close eye on the prolific offense of Vanderbilt, the Rebels’ opponent Saturday, taking note of the steady guard play from Wade Baldwin IV, forward Luke Kornet and center Damian Jones. But Gielo feels the Rebels have what it takes to slow down Commodores.
Ole Miss will have to pull out all stops against a Vandy team that is currently fifth and second, respectively, in the Southeastern Conference in field goal percentage (45.7 percent) and 3-point field goal percentage (40.4 percent).
Defensively, the Commodores are even better, leading the SEC in field goal percentage defense (38 percent) and 3-point field goal percentage defense (27.7 percent)
But Gielo, who scored 16 points on 6 of 8 shooting in Wednesday night’s 76-73 win at Missouri, isn’t so worried about how the Rebels (14-8, 4-5) will defend.
“Recently, our zone picked up,” Gielo said. “We started clicking better. There are some games we really showed that zone can do a lot of damage. If everybody commits and says, ‘They’re not going to score on us,’ we can really be good on defense.
Ole Miss forward Tomasz Gielo
Despite having leaders out on the floor, Vanderbilt hasn’t lived up to the preseason expectations, which had the Commodores making an appearance in the Preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll at No. 18 before stumbling out in mid-December.
Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy praised Vanderbilt on his preseason ballot, voting the Commodores as the best team in the SEC.
But Vanderbilt hasn’t performed as the best team in the league, losing nine games to opponents ranked at least No. 55 by Kenpom. Seven of those losses—at Baylor, Kentucky, Purdue, Texas and in a neutral site matchup against Kansas—were away from Memorial Coliseum.
Kenpom ranks the Commodores’ schedule the 10th toughest in the country.
Kennedy feels Vandy capable of going on a run
“Man, they’re good,” Kennedy said despite the 13-9 record (5-4 SEC) Kevin Stallings’ team holds. “I just think they have all the pieces. They’re very capable of going on a tremendous run and reeling off eight, nine, 10 wins in a row and getting in the tournament and being a very formidable opponent.”
Against No. 8 Texas A&M earlier this week, Vanderbilt showed glimpses of why Kennedy ranked them so high, defeating the Aggies 77-60 Thursday night and holding Texas A&M’s Jalen Jones and Danuel House to a combined 14 points and 11 rebounds on 3 for 21 shooting.
The win over the Aggies was the Commodores’ first win over a top 25 opponent since March 2012, when they defeated then-No. 1 Kentucky in the SEC Tournament Championship game. With Vanderbilt not having a lot of time to prep for the Rebels, Kennedy hopes his team can catch the Commodores (7 p.m., ESPNU) still basking in the glow of arguably their biggest victory of the season.
“Hopefully, we can take advantage of that and get a little bit of a head start on them,” said Kennedy, whose 6-7 in his career against Vanderbilt. “We’ll try to game plan them the best we can and then we’ve got to be good offensively.”
Saiz likely out for Saturday
Junior forward Sebastian Saiz has made progress since having surgery to repair a partially detached retina, but will most likely sit out against the Commodores.
Before the eye injury, Saiz was Ole Miss’ second-best scoring option outside of senior guard Stefan Moody, averaging 12.8 points per game. He also averaged 9.8 rebounds per game, which ranks second in the SEC.
“He’s progressing as well as to be expected,” Kennedy said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen by Saturday. But more than likely next week will be the first opportunity for him to get clearance at which time we’ll proceed based on what he’s able to do.”
(Feature image credit: Amanda Swain, The Rebel Walk)