February 25, 2008

Polynice needs to finish strong

After racing out to a 13-0 start, the NCAA Tournament seemed to be the only logical destination for the Ole Miss men's basketball team.

Less than two months later, the basketball team is left to hope for an impressive closing kick.

With just four league games left before the SEC Tournament, the Rebels need someone to step up - and it has to be Eniel Polynice.

It's not going to be Chris Warren.

In the SEC, Warren's drawn the focus of opposing defenses that have maybe figured out the right way to defend the diminutive scorer.

In conference play, teams have forced Warren to beat the initial defender off the dribble, limiting his open looks at the rim from the three-point line. Warren's fast enough to beat most defenders off the dribble, but he's not been finishing at the rim.

Virtually every team in the SEC has a long, athletic shot blocker who can hedge over to help out when Warren gets in the lane, forcing him to change his shot. With more experience and maturity, Warren should be fin, but for now, it's not on him to save this team.

It's not on Dwayne Curtis either.

While he's the Rebels' most reliable offensive option, scoring almost at will with his back to the basket, Curtis simply doesn't get enough touches to be heavily relied on.

Curtis is certainly a load to handle on the inside, but by committing to get him the ball 20 to 25 times a game on the block, the Rebels would have to sacrifice their preferred style of play.

Also with the game on the line, it's no guarantee that the ball will ever even get into Curtis' hands. There are just too many variables that come into play when you have one chance to score.

You need to be able to put the ball in someone's hands.

And it should be in Polynice's.

The rangy guard isn't a particularly good three-point or free-throw shooter, but he can get to the rim and he can finish.

In Ole Miss' 18 wins, Polynice is shooting 49.2 percent from the field and averaging 12.4 points. He's also impacted things with his passing and rebounding.

In the Rebels' eight losses, all of Polynice's numbers dip except for his rebounding. However, it the Rebels' losses, they've shot the ball very poorly, leading to more rebound opportunities.

The most alarming number is Polynice's 35.2 field-goal percentage in the Rebels' losses - 14 percent lower than in Ole Miss' wins.

He's a guy the team has to have playing well if the Rebels are serious about making a late run. He's got to pass the ball. He's got to create for himself and others. He has to defend, and he has to get to the rim.

If he does, the Rebels might just still end up dancing come March. If not, they'll have to wait another year for a chance at taking the next step as a team.

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