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- American basketball player-coach
OXFORD — Ole Miss basketball is venturing out of the SEC, but it'll still play a game that means more.
The Rebels (5-2) host No. 19 Memphis (5-2) on Saturday (11 a.m., ESPN2) in a battle between on-and-off rivals separated by 83 miles of interstate. The matchup means plenty for a Memphis team on a two-game losing streak, but it might mean even more for an Ole Miss team looking for its first signature win of the season.
"You hear the clichés that it's always another game. But this game is not another game," senior and Oxford native Jarkel Joiner said. "This is a big game for us. We know how big it is. We're going to try to do our best in practice. Our scout team is really good and execute their plays in practice so we know what they've got. We know how big this game is and we're ready."
Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis said he encourages that kind of attitude. He said the preparation will be the same for Memphis as it is for any other game. But rivalries matter to him.
The idea of selling out The Pavilion, which Ole Miss is on pace to do, for a game that feeds on energy and passion is a great opportunity.
"I know sometimes where we live, football is on people's minds. And it still is, don't get me wrong. But it's great for basketball to have a forefront," Davis said. "There's no better venue in the country than the Pavilion when it's full and the student section is rocking. In those games there'll be some Memphis fans and some Ole Miss fans. That's what rivalry games are all about."
Facing this Memphis team is particularly exciting because of its pedigree. Memphis signed the No. 1 recruiting class in the country in 2021 per the 247Sports Composite. Forward Emoni Bates and center Jalen Duren were top 10 recruits in the nation and forward Josh Minott was a top 50 recruit.
Ole Miss will try to counter Memphis' talent by continuing to progress in some of the problem areas that plagued the Rebels in the Charleston Classic. Guard Austin Crowley said the Rebels have worked hard to fix their second-half approach to avoid sluggish starts and have emphasized defense at all levels. Davis said Ole Miss is working to improve its half-court offense and wants the Rebels to play more at the speed it did in the second half of a 75-51 win against Rider on Tuesday.
Memphis clearly isn't invincible. Iowa State and Georgia scored 78 and 82 points, respectively, and forced 33 total turnovers. If Ole Miss can be efficient on offense and use its aggression well on defense, there's a clear path to pulling off the win over a ranked opponent.
And for some players, like Memphis native and Ole Miss sophomore Matthew Murrell, there might be even more value to pulling off this win.
"I know a good amount of the players on the team," Murrell said. "Of course, me being from Memphis you always want to play the hometown. It's going to be exciting."
Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Ole Miss basketball vs. Memphis: 'This game is not another game'