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A closer look at hoops' road struggles

By David Collier is a junior broadcast journalism major, Meek School of Journalism and New Media
Follow David on Twitter @DavidLCollier
The Rebels wrapped up the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii Tuesday and headed back to Oxford with a 10-2 record. The Rebels next contest is Jan. 4 at home against Fordham, which should be an easy win before they head into SEC play, but the record doesn’t tell the whole story.
The team that started the season 6-0 by beating their opponents by an average of 31.5 points per game during that span is not the same team that the Rebel faithful have seen in the past week or so.
The difference? Tad Smith Coliseum.
Can it really be that simple? Maybe, maybe not. But whatever the case may be, Ole Miss has to improve their play away from home to keep those hopes of a NCAA Tournament berth that is only goal this program has right now.
At home, the Rebels are averaging 85.6 points per game, while giving up just 56.9. However, it’s a different story away from home, where Ole Miss is scoring 78.2 points per game on average and giving up 72.2 points per game.
To me, this is the most glaring statistic when trying to figure out why this team hasn’t reached its full potential. At times, they look like a legitimate NCAA Tournament team, but other instances, they look abysmal.
Some blame it on the offense and the Rebels’ inconsistencies in basically every game, but fans should really be looking more at the defensive end of the court.
Sure, Ole Miss has plenty of things that can shore up on offense.
Junior guard Marshall Henderson’s shot selection has been questioned all season long, but when he’s hot, he’s really hot and can win Ole Miss a game by himself. Henderson is averaging 17.9 points per game and is 37-for-95 (38.9 percent) from the field, including 29-for-81 (35.8 percent) from three-point range at home. Away from Oxford, he is scoring 18 points per game on average and is 27-for-70 (38.6 percent) from the field, including 20-for-49 (40.8 percent) from behind the arc.
The Ole Miss offense also settles for too many three-point attempts as a team, turns the ball over in critical situations, struggles at the free throw line and seems to lose focus throughout games.
However, the defensive side of the ball really tells the tale.
At home, the Rebels are averaging a rebounding margin of +6 per game, while the margin narrows to +1 per contest away from Oxford.
The defensive pressure from Ole Miss also decreases away from Oxford. In their seven home contests, the Rebels average 11.4 steals and 6.4 blocks per game, but those average dip to 7.4 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per game outside of Tad Smith Coliseum.
In Ole Miss’ 15-point win over Hawaii on Tuesday, the Rebels saw a deficit turn into a solid lead late in the game in a matter of two minutes because of aggressive defense that led to easy baskets on offense.
If Ole Miss can get back to playing solid defense whether they are at home or not, they will have a good shot at getting over the proverbial hump and be in the NCAA Tournament field in March.
The offense will be there. All eyes are on the Rebel defense.

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