Tiger Basketball

Ole Miss vs. Missouri: An evenly matched showdown in Mississippi

Photo by Terry Davis

Photo by Terry Davis

This Saturday’s matchup between No. 8 Missouri and No. 24 Ole Miss has all the makings of what could be a game for the ages. It’s being televised on ESPN, played under the lights, and has serious postseason implications for both teams. The stage is set.

MISSOURI:

Missouri has been the absolute surprise of this college football season. At 9-1 with victories over Vanderbilt, Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee and their lone loss coming to South Carolina in overtime, the Tigers have gone from being everyone’s pick to be in the bottom tier of the SEC East to controlling their own destiny as to whether they make it to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game or not.

What have the Tigers done so well this year that has put them into contention for an SEC East crown?

First off their defensive has been dominant. Their 35 sacks thus far is good for second in the nation, the offenses’ number of yards lost on those sacks is 208, putting them at 12th in the FBS, and their 17 interceptions rank seventh nationally. In short, these guys love to get to the quarterback and the constant pressure they are putting on whoever they might be trying to sack has forced some bad throws that have been picked off. The 20 points a game they are allowing is 20th overall, so yes, their defense has been top notch.

The quarterback play has also been surprising. After losing starter James Franklin for a few games, in the midst of what was a great season for him, backup and freshman Maty Mauk came in and showed that despite being young, he is fully capable of leading a high performing SEC offense. Franklin will be back this week, but Mauk will be ready to go if his number gets called.

Finally, Gary Pinkel continues to prove himself as a more than adequate head football coach. Many people undervalued Missouri when they came to the SEC, but in their final nine seasons in the Big XII, Pinkel led Mizzou to eight winning seasons. Naturally coming into the SEC last year was a tough move and there was plenty of pressure to perform immediately, but after a down first year, Mizzou has come out and played like they really do belong in the powerhouse SEC.

So why, despite all of this success Missouri has had, am I predicting that Ole Miss will upset them on Saturday in Oxford? Because honestly I think Ole Miss is a better team. Yes, it is undeniable that Missouri is good. A team that is 9-1 in the SEC is obviously a good team. But their marquee wins this season have come against teams that are underperforming by normal standards or are banged up with injuries. Florida has had a horrendous season, one so bad that head coach Will Muschamp is on the hot seat. They will likely not make a bowl, a first for them since 1986 (NCAA sanctions kept them out in 1990). Georgia, a team many predicted might be able to compete for a BCS Title has been ravaged by injuries and have since dropped completely out of the top 25. So really the only game Missouri has played against a quality top 25 opponent was their matchup against South Carolina, and when the pressure was on and BCS Title hopes very much alive for the Tigers, they crumbled.

OLE MISS:

Ole Miss on the other hand comes in at 7-3, a bowl bid already secured, and a second season for Coach Hugh Freeze that is already more successful than last year’s shocking (pleasantly so) 7-6 campaign. The Rebels’ three losses have come against no. 12 Texas A&M (8-2), no. 6 Auburn (10-1), and no. 1 Alabama (10-0). Save for the Alabama game, Ole Miss could have easily won those matchups if they had caught one or two lucky breaks. If Missouri plays the identical schedule Ole Miss has, they might be 9-1, who knows, but personally I think they would be at 7-3 or maybe worse.

Hugh Freeze has the Rebels on a roll right now. After the three straight losses in the middle of the season, Ole Miss has shown some serious moxie by coming out and reeling off four straight wins when they could have simply hung their heads and struggled to end the year. The Rebs have really been clicking on offense and defense over the past few games. Bo Wallace is playing some of the best football Ole Miss has seen from a QB in a long time, the Nkemdiche brothers are both healthy and making big plays, and the highly regarded  receiving corps is living up to its potential. On top of this, backup and jumbo package QB Barry Brunetti is exposing defenses with both his legs and his arm and the deep, deep backfield is capable of putting out four tailbacks that can get Freeze the yards he needs when he needs them.

Ole Miss is a Top 15 team in my opinion, but in reality Missouri is as well. I think this will be a tremendous matchup on Saturday. Missouri is playing for Atlanta. Ole Miss is playing for an upper tier bowl. Both teams want to win in the worst way, but the home field advantage and the talent level of Ole Miss gives them the advantage this week.

Prediction: Ole Miss – 31 Missouri – 24

Warner Russell 
is a regular contributor for MemphiSport and The Wise Guise. Read his non-sports stuff here. Follow him @uncle_warny.

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Ole Miss vs. Auburn: A tale of two teams on the rise

(Photo by Justin Ford)

(Photo by Justin Ford)

This Saturday’s matchup between Auburn and Ole Miss will go a long way in determining who is a legitimate SEC team and who is still a few steps away from contending in the SEC West. Both teams sit at 3-1 heading into the game at Jordan-Hare in Auburn, Ala. Whoever wins this game will be one difficult win closer to a potentially very successful season.

Ole Miss failed to make a statement last week against Alabama after many thought they could sneak into Tuscaloosa and pull out an upset, and similarly Auburn failed to put up much of a fight in their first real test the week before against LSU. Both of those losses made it abundantly clear that neither team is going to win the SEC this year, but both teams still have very real chances at nine or 10 win seasons.

Last year, Auburn was dreadful. There’s really no other way around it. The Tigers had talent, but after losing now head coach, then offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn to Arkansas State, Gene Chizik just couldn’t get things together to put a quality product on the field. Auburn went 3-9 and Chizik was sent packing just two years after winning a National Championship. Malzahn was brought back to be the head coach and the rebuilding process began.

Two years ago, Ole Miss was beyond dreadful. They won two games, failed to even compete in most of their contests, and the blame rested squarely on the shoulders of Houston Nutt. After he was fired and AD Pete Boone stepped down, Ole Miss went out and brought in a couple of young guns in Coach Hugh Freeze (coincidentally also from Arkansas State) and AD Ross Bjork. The culture in Oxford is vastly different now than it was in 2011, and after a wildly successful season last year, compared to the years previous of course, and an incredible recruiting class, Ole Miss is on the up and up in a big way. A 7-5 record with mediocre talent in Hugh Freeze’s first season was damn near unthinkable last August, but it happened and it was great. This year many fans want to see even more now that they’ve tasted success.

Now these two teams get to face off and see who has made more progress. Many Auburn fans expected the team to compete this season and they have. 3-1 is not too shabby, especially having beaten a good Washington St. team and SEC foe Mississippi State, but the schedule still has some tough games on it against Texas A&M (away) and Georgia and Alabama (home). If Auburn is for real this season and wants to make a statement as to where they are in the pecking order, they can easily do that this Saturday by beating a talented Ole Miss team.

In a similar vein, Ole Miss, needs to come out and make a statement as well. They need to tell the world that the Alabama game was a minor speed bump in the middle of a great season. And they also really need to win to avoid going 0-4 in the brutal Alabama/Auburn/A&M/LSU stretch. Going 0-4 at any point in a season makes it difficult to rebound well, and I don’t think any Ole Miss fan would be too thrilled going 7-5 this year when they realistically, after starting 3-0, could go 9-3. Come out and win Saturday, and Ole Miss is in great shape going forward. Come out and lose, and things get sticky.

The game should be a fun one. Freeze and Malzahn have very similar styles. They are very familiar with one another. Both teams have talented, fun hurry-up offenses. It wouldn’t surprise me to see an extremely high scoring game. If either team really has a shot at winning, it will come down to good defensive execution, and right now I think the edge goes to Ole Miss in that category.

Both teams need this win. I honestly think Ole Miss needs it more. Auburn probably wasn’t expecting to win this game at the beginning of the season, while Ole Miss probably was. A loss here could start a rough downward spiral over the next few weeks for the Rebs, whereas a loss for Auburn this week wouldn’t be the end of the world. Because they need it more, because they will want it more, and because they have the advantage on defense, I think that Ole Miss pulls it out on the Plains.

Prediction: Ole Miss 35 – Auburn 27

Warner Russell is a regular contributor for MemphiSport and The Wise Guise. Read his non-sports stuff here. Follow him @uncle_warny.

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VIDEO: New Derrick Rose ‘Basketball is Everything’ Commercial

According to former University of Memphis star and current Chicago Bulls superstar Derrick Rose’s new Adidas commercial, “Basketball is Everything.”

Watch:

(H/T @Jon_Roser)

Twitter: @cerrito
Email: [email protected]

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2011 M Awards: Most Memorable Moment

It was a last second shot that propelled the Memphis Tigers to a championship over the defending champs, the Grizzlies, in the 12th Annual Tigers-Grizzlies charity game outdoors at the Liberty Bowl. Yes – this is a dream, and it would take something this crazy to win this category when such outstanding performances were on display in the nominees. In the end, it didn’t take a dream, just a last second shot from Rudy Gay to beat the (in a dream) Champion Heat team at FedExForum. The fact that this was the highlight of Rudy’s season is a shame, considering how many highlights the rest of the team garnered throughout the last month of the season and the playoffs.

Rudy Gay’s last second shot over Lebron to beat the Heat at FedExForumFirst Place: 25.99%
Joe Jackson winning MVP of the C-USA Tournament in El PasoSecond Place: 20.80%
Tony Allen on his hands and knees in center court beating the hardwood during Z-Bo’s playoff clinching free throws versus the KingsThird Place: 17.18%
Best Write-in Vote: Picking up my 2010 Taurus at Landers Ford

So what do you think, Memphis? Did you get it right? Was Rudy’s killer shot the moment to remember. It was a long way back. Do you remember it at all? Do you remember anything other than Tigers or Grizzlies? Tell us what you think in the comments below. And look for another winner soon. Here are the winners so far…

(Note: The 2011 M Awards honor games played from the end of the 2010 NBA regular season until the end of the 2011 NBA regular season)

The 2011 M Award Winners

For the first time ever the M Awards are being announced online.
Check back here daily in the month of July for a new winner in
MemphiSport’s annual celebration of the best  in Memphis sports.

Favorite Concessions: FedExForum
Favorite Place To Tailgate: Tiger Lane
Favorite Sporting Venue: FedExForum
Favorite Race: The Grizzlies Playoff Race
Best Game: CUSA Championship Game
Most Memorable Moment: Rudy Gay Beats the Heat

Click here to listen to the 2011 M Awards Nominations Special

2011 M Awards: Best Game

It is the year of the Grizzly so far. But this is still Tiger Country. The only thing that could have made the Tigers’ conference tourney win more exciting would be having it called by MemphiSport columnist/legendary former broadcaster Jack Eaton. And that’s not to say anything about the two Grizz game runner-ups… They were fantastic games too. The issue this year is that we just had too many good games to choose from.

C-USA Championship GameFirst Place: 39.26%
Grizz beat  Heat at FedExForumSecond Place: 17.79%
Grizz clinch playoffs vs. KingsThird Place: 17.18%
Best Write-in Vote: Every Weekend

So what do you think, Memphis? Did you get it right? Was this the best game? Did you attend? If not, why not? What is wrong with you? Tell us what you think in the comments below. And look for another winner soon. Here are the winners so far…

(Note: The 2011 M Awards honor games played from the end of the 2010 NBA regular season until the end of the 2011 NBA regular season)

The 2011 M Award Winners

For the first time ever the M Awards are being announced online.
Check back here daily in the month of July for a new winner in
MemphiSport’s annual celebration of the best  in Memphis sports.

Favorite Concessions: FedExForum
Favorite Place To Tailgate: Tiger Lane
Favorite Sporting Venue: FedExForum
Favorite Race: The Grizzlies Playoff Race
Best Game: CUSA Championship Game

Click here to listen to the 2011 M Awards Nominations Special

5 Reasons You Should Go See the Grizzlies

The Grizzlies have been in this situation before.  It’s the middle of March and the team is battling for a playoff spot.  This time last year they faded down the stretch, narrowly missing the playoffs.

This year, the team is one year more experienced with new and old weapons added to their arsenal.  Now, is the time to jump back on the bandwagon and be a part of Grizz Country at FedExForum.

Here are 5 reason you should go see the Grizzlies live in person:

5)  It’s a Great Deal

The Grizzlies promotion staff does a pretty good job in keeping ticket prices fair and reasonable compared to the other teams around the NBA.   Plus there are tickets available to every game, which is not the case for all NBA teams.

Sure, the usual complaints will come, “well parking is too much” (which is true), and “the food is too much.”

Go eat dinner beforehand at one of the restaurants downtown, or eat something at home before you go.  So, if you do get  hungry, just get a snack like popcorn or candy instead of something like barbecue nachos.

There is some type of promotion every night, some in game, like the “FedEx Delivery of the game”, or pre-game giveaways to the first 5,000 fans like “Bobble-Head Night” or “Poster Night.”

Another thing that is done to make tickets affordable is the choices of packs or deals that you can buy.

The price shouldn’t be the thing that keeps you from coming to the game.

4) Fans of Opposing Teams Have No Trouble Showing Up

It seems that when the big name teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics come to town, the crowd at the FedExForum isn’t as pro-Grizzlies as the crowd is when the team is playing other teams around the NBA.  It has been this way ever since the Grizzlies moved here from Vancouver.

It is time for that to change.  There is not another team in the state, or for that matter within three hundred miles of the city, so you can’t claim local allegiance to any other team either, unless you are actually from that city.

We’ve heard the excuse, that “Oh, I was a (insert NBA team) fan before the Grizzlies came here.”  Well it has been ten years and chances are, the franchise that you were a fan of ten years ago, has different players on the team then they had when the team moved here.  I’m not saying that if you really have been a die-hard fan of a team for 30 or so years that you should change allegiances now, but at least support your home town when they play every other team and come to cheer them on, not just come to the Forum once a year to cheer “your team” on.

The Grizzlies feed off the crowd, and that was very evident this past Wednesday in the game against the New York Knicks.  The crowd was into it from the pre-game introductions in which Carmelo Anthony was heavily booed, all the way to the final buzzer.  Unfortunately, Carmelo had the last laugh as he hit the game winner with 0.5 seconds left on the clock.  Memphis was down by 17 points at one point in the third quarter and as they battled their way back into the game, the crowd got louder and louder for the Grizzlies.

Bring your kids to the games too, as now is the time they start choosing teams and who to root for, and who better than the home town team.  I am sure that most kids are brought up to root for the Tigers, why not the Grizzlies too?

3) It’s a Great Place to Compare Your Playoff Beard with other Fans

Grizzlies games have become the Mid-South’s largest gathering of bearded people ever since the team started growing “Playoff Beards” and encouraging the rest of the fan base to do the same. Is your beard as good as Rob Fischer’s or the ones in the Pepsi Super Fan Section?

Grizzlies bench celebrates during last week's win over OKC.

2) This Team is Fun to Root For

You don’t have to take my word for it, they do have other media outlets(ESPN and SI) talking about the Grizzlies in a positive light for the first time in a long time. This team is on a roll and fun to watch.

Being one of the hottest teams in the league has gotten the league buzzing about the Grizzlies and none of the teams they play are taking them lightly and their recent run has them right in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.  They have done a good portion of this run without their franchise player Rudy Gay.  Now, you can argue that Zach Randolph is the franchise player, but that is an argument for another day.

Bringing in old faces like Shane Battier and Jason Williams also should bring in some fans that the franchise has lost over the past few years in which questionable front office decisions were made such as the Pau trade and a flurry of under performing draft picks.  Those two are arguably two of the most appreciated and well liked players this franchise has ever had.  Maybe these two guys are a little older and not as quick as they once were, but they bring experience and familiarity to this franchise.

As for the rest of the team, Z-Bo and Tony Allen embrace the city and take on the “hard working, we get no respect” attitude that this city loves to embrace.  Whether Tony Allen is going loco on the bench waving his towel or Z-Bo is taking off his head band, the crowd loves  it when those two guys get going and those guys feed off the energy of the crowd as well.  It also seems that as the season has progressed the rest of the team has taken on that attitude and being on the same page has definitely turned this team into a dangerous team to watch and one that nobody wants to see in the first round of the playoffs.

1) Ownership is Finally Serious About Winning

Many of the common complaints on why people don’t go to the games or down to FedExForum to watch the Grizzlies have been addressed so far.  The main one though is the fact that some fans felt the Grizzlies weren’t putting a winner on the floor or were even trying to be competitive.

They missed the playoffs last year, but made vast improvements in every facet of the game and increased their win total by eleven games.  That set up this year, the final year of Heisley’s “three year plan” in which he pledged a playoff berth for this franchise.  In this three year plan, the development of Hasheem Thabeet was one of the main priorities in order for this team to become a contender.  Well, that plan fell through, but in trading Thabeet (with DeMarre Carroll and a first-rounder) to Houston for fan favorite and defensive stopper Shane Battier (and Ish Smith), Heisley basically admitted making a mistake in drafting Thabeet and wants to win now!

Maybe the Rudy Gay injury played a part in making this deal happen, but that rumor was swirling well before the injury occurred.  Heisley knew that if the Grizzlies were to get to the playoffs and make some noise, that move had to be made.

Heisley is not a man that admits many mistakes and he also does not like to give up on something he had so much riding on, but he did.

Now, it is your turn to buy into the Grizzlies making a run at the playoffs because everyone else is pitching in and buying in to this team.

Do what you can to make this town a Grizzlies town and give the team a unique environment for opposing teams to come into and fear the beard.

Ben Hogan is a regular contributor to Memphisport. You can follow him on Twitter @notthegolfer. For more live tweets during Grizzlies games follow @memphisport, @douggillon, @cerrito, and @chasingphoto.

Story photo by Chase Gustafson.

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