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January 4, 2008

Rebels could make statement against Vols

MORE BREAKDOWNS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10

Upcoming SEC Games
Chicago State at Alabama
Massachusetts at Vanderbilt
Louisville at Kentucky
UNC-Asheville at South Carolina
Georgia at Gonzaga
LSU at Texas A&M
Arkansas vs. Baylor in Dallas
Mississippi State vs. Lafayette in Jackson, Miss.
Xavier at Auburn
Florida at Alabama
Georgia Tech at Georgia
Mississippi State at LSU
South Carolina at Vanderbilt
Ole Miss at Tennessee
Arkansas at Auburn

Best matchup, non-conference game: UMass at Vanderbilt. The Commodores (14-0) are one of the nation's biggest surprises, having worked their way up the rankings to No. 15. The top two scorers in the SEC are Vandy's Shan Foster (20.1 ppg) and A.J. Ogilvy (19.2 ppg). The Commodores have been terrific offensively (tied with Tennessee for the SEC scoring lead at 87.4 ppg) but suspect defensively (yielding a league-worst 76 ppg). The Minutemen (12-2) won't be going down without a fight. They can score, too (second in the Atlantic 10 at 84.6 ppg), and they've shown they can win a big road game (107-100 at Syracuse).

Best matchup, conference game: Ole Miss at Tennessee. Speaking of surprising undefeated teams, the Rebels (13-0) continue to defy the odds. They've received steady play out of a veteran frontcourt while mixing in a young backcourt that has been better than anyone expected. But you can bet they'd have preferred a tamer conference opener than the Vols (12-1) in Knoxville. UT is ranked eighth, while Ole Miss is No. 18. The Vols are scoring 87.4 ppg; Ole Miss is third in the SEC at 86.2 ppg. For anyone who has yet to take the Rebels seriously, they can make a great case for themselves Wednesday night.

The pressure is on: Vanderbilt. The Commodores will be favored to run their record to 16-0 with home games against UMass and South Carolina. They then play Kentucky in Lexington, where they've won two in a row. If they were to make it three, they probably would be around the top 10 and 17-0 headed to Knoxville for a showdown with rival Tennessee on Jan. 17.

Upset alert: UMass at Vanderbilt. See above.

RPI watch: The SEC is seventh in the RPI, behind the other BCS conferences and the Missouri Valley Conference. After Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Tennessee, no SEC team is in the top 70 in the RPI. Three schools Florida, Georgia and Auburn have non-conference schedules ranked in the 300s.

Key stat: Field-goal percentage defense usually is a measure of a winning team. Not in the SEC. The three teams Kentucky, Mississippi State and LSU with the best field-goal percentage defenses in the league have the three worst records in the league.

Freshmen to watch: Ole Miss G Chris Warren. The point guard from Orlando has been one of the keys to the Rebels' fast start. The former three-star prospect is a jet from end to end. He struggled early with turnovers, but he has begun to settle in for the Rebels. Warren has 22 assists to just six turnovers in the past four games, while still managing to average 17.5 ppg during the stretch. He'll have to keep his wits about him against Tennessee's pressure defense if the Rebels are to have any chance of upsetting the Vols.

Who's hot: Alabama G Alonzo Gee is averaging 19.8 ppg over the past four games, thanks to shooting a torrid 62.8 percent (27 of 43). He's also grabbing nine rebounds per game during the stretch. Vanderbilt has scored at least 83 points in each of its past nine games. Arkansas G/F Sonny Weems is averaging 16.3 ppg over the past three games. Florida F/C Marreese Speights is shooting 68.3 percent and averaging 17.5 ppg over the past four games.

Who's not: Tennessee G Chris Lofton is shooting 31.9 percent (22-of-69) over the past five games, dropping his season average to 34.4 percent. Kentucky G/F Joe Crawford is averaging 8.7 ppg over the past three games. LSU F Anthony Randoph is in a prolonged slump, shooting just 29.6 percent over the past five games after shooting 59 percent through the first eight games.

Worth noting: Ole Miss' 13-0 start is the best in school history. The previous record was 12-0 in 1926. Rebels guard David Huertas, a transfer from Florida, has begun to emerge as a scoring threat. He has raised his scoring average to 10.6 ppg and has scored in double-figures in five consecutive games. Vols guard Chris Lofton is 14 3-pointers from becoming the SEC's career leader. Former Arkansas sharpshooter Pat Bradley (1995-99) has the record at 366. Tennessee has a 23-game home winning streak. Georgia guard Sundiata Gaines recently became just the second player in Bulldogs history to amass 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 300 assists in his career. The other was Shandon Anderson, an All-SEC swingman from 1992-96 who played 10 seasons in the NBA. South Carolina coach Dave Odom picked up his 400th career victory when the Gamecocks ripped Radford on Wednesday night. The Gamecocks, who have only one player taller than 6-7 who sees significant minutes, figure to have their hands full against 7-7 UNC-Asheville center Kenny George on Saturday. George, who comes off the bench, is averaging 12.5 ppg, 8.9 rpg and 5.6 bpg.

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