By Derek DeBurger

No. 22 Louisville will play the No. 19 Ole Miss Rebels in this year’s edition of the ACC/SEC Challenge.

This is the first-ranked matchup for the Cards and a rematch of last year’s Sweet 16 game in which the Cards won and advanced.

Meet them in the mud

The Rebels are a gritty team that likes to play ugly, and if the Cards want to get the win they’re going to have to meet them in the mud. Ole Miss does everything they can to limit their opponent’s offensive output, stringing together complimentary performances on both sides of the ball.

On offense the Rebels do exactly what you would think they do — they play slow. It’s horrible to watch, but it works. They kill the shot clock on nearly every possession, wear down an opposing defense, and try to draw fouls early and often. The natural conclusion of this style of play is that Ole Miss only scores an average of 68.9 points per game, but they give up an average of 54.6 points to opponents.

Speaking of tough, that is the first and last word used to describe this defense. The 54.6 points they give up a game is good enough to rank them as the 45th-best scoring defense in the country. The way they hold teams to such few points is by staying in front of players, and not trying to do anything but that. Ole Miss only grabs 6.4 steals per game, but that’s because they don’t try to go for steals; the Rebels would much rather force a shot-clock violation than a steal. One thing that the Rebels do well is block shots. This team averages 5.4 blocks per game, which ranks 23rd in the country. Those blocks aren’t just coming from one player, it’s a team effort; no one on this Rebels squad is top 50 in blocks per game.

This is going to be a very difficult matchup for the Cards, but it’s one that I think they’re very equipped to handle. Jeff Walz’s teams are very good at beating others at their own game; if a team wants to play fast they’ll outscore them, if a team wants to slow it down they’ll get more stops than them. If Walz wants to, he has the players—like bigs Olivia Cochran and Nyla Harris—to get down and dirty with the Rebels. He can also show off the firepower on this team—with wings like Sydney Taylor and Kiki Jefferson or guards like Jayda Curry and Nina Rickards—and force Ole Miss to play catchup.

This is the type of game that, if you’re disciplined, you can win in multiple ways. Since Ole Miss doesn’t go for steals it should help the Cards cut down on their turnovers, and give them the space to run their offense.

This should be a fun game, and I’m hoping the Cards can pull out a big early-season victory.