Working hard to come up with an intro here….ah, I can’t. This program’s too boring, too forgettable. Ole Miss basketball, from 2006-07 to 2016-17, never finished with fewer than six SEC losses or more than nine. It was a remarkably there program. They haven’t had an NCAA Tournament seed higher than 8 since 2001; they haven’t progressed past the Sweet Sixteen ever. They made the NCAA Tournament five times in six years from 1997 to 2002. There have been all of three NCAAT runs since.
Kermit Davis is a good guy and a good coach, I think.
WHAT THEY BRING
A pretty disappointing offense
Interestingly enough, Year 2 of the Kermit Davis Experience at Ole Miss started off pretty swimmingly: four straight wins over mediocre opponents, a one-point loss, and then a neutral-site win over the best Penn State team in nearly 25 years. All in all, no one would’ve been faulted for thinking these Rebels could make their second straight NCAA Tournament – small potatoes to some, certainly, but their first back-to-back NCAAT runs since 2001-2002. The day after Penn State, they took the Barclays Center court against Oklahoma State, ready to keep their hot start rolling.
Instead, the train crashed through the floor like a bad animation and seemingly cannot reach the bottom. Ole Miss lost that game 78-37 and has gone 4-6 since; their best win since Penn State is over KP #219 Cal State Bakersfield. Against anything other than crap opponents, they’ve been an offensive disaster. Eight games against Top 100 or SEC competition have resulted in two 1 PPP+ outings, with just one 2PT% outing above 50%. (A 71-55 loss to Florida, if you’re curious.) Davis’ offense, which relies heavily on ball screens and basket cuts, has malfunctioned more than most would’ve anticipated. Devoid of great shooters of teams past (Terence Davis) and of a decent shooting big man (Bruce Stevens), Ole Miss has defaulted to a depressing diet of lots of non-rim twos and missed threes.
Breein Tyree, still the main focus
Breein Tyree is the guy you’ll remember from said previous teams; he’s still the best player and best scorer Ole Miss has. Tyree’s the only player that really forces his way to the rim without others’ help, and he’s converted 63.5% of his attempts.
Tyree loves getting into the paint off of a ball screen, whether that’s coming off of the screen or denying it entirely. Same deal with his mid-range pullups, which he’s taken an unfortunate amount of.
Tyree leads Ole Miss in made threes with 36, and Tennessee has to make him their defensive focus. He’s not an elite shooter (35.6% for his career, never higher than 37.5% in any season), but he’s a good one and the best Ole Miss has got.
Devontae Shuler’s struggles
Behind him is Devontae Shuler. Shuler’s had a lot of issues this year, whether it’s struggling with turnovers or missing a lot of ill-advised jumpers.
Synergy has him in the 30th-percentile of offensive efficiency nationally, which is brutal for a guy that was a 40% three-point shooter a year ago. Shuler started slumping in late November against Memphis and Penn State and never really recovered; his last five games have resulted in 45 points on 60 shots. Shuler’s a big fan of pulling up off of ball screens like Tyree, but he’s not as efficient. They’ll try to get him plenty of open looks from three to get him going, and it may work; he really should be hitting more than 29.5% of his catch-and-shoot threes.
Others to know
Third guy you’ll need to know: Blake Hinson. Hinson missed the first four games of the year, so if you’re a pessimist, you’d say Ole Miss is 5-8 with him playing. Same deal as last year: he’s an undersized 4 playing at the 3 that hits threes at around a 35% rate and only goes to the rim a couple of times per game. Why he doesn’t go more often, I’ll never know or understand.
Others to know: the two starters surrounding these three, KJ Buffen and Khadim Sy. Buffen is the starting 4 and cannot shot well from three at all; he’s 8-for-30 from deep through 1.5 seasons. He gets tons of actions off of cuts.
Sy, like Buffen, cannot shoot; this puts Ole Miss in the unfortunate bind of basically having two guys in their starting lineup you won’t defend past 15 feet. Sy is Ole Miss’s go-to guy in both ball screen sets and post-ups; he’ll get a lot of action as the roll man and in the post.
Interior defense has struggled a lot more than I’d expect
As noted earlier, this has traditionally been Kermit’s stronger side of the ball…and yet it just isn’t so far at Ole Miss. This year’s edition ranks 123rd in KenPom; while last year’s should’ve been better than 80th if not for bad 3PT% luck, this one is openly not good. The Rebels’ rim defense is utterly horrid, allowing opponents to convert 64.3% of attempts. They’re doing a fine job on perimeter defense if you refuse to look at the underlying stats, which would tell you their opponents are shooting a truly amazing 23.4% on wide-open threes. Indeed, I could do that.
The interior defense issues can pretty well be hammered down to a couple of key points: their starting center, Khadim Sy, is a foul machine, and the guys behind him are either inexperienced, bad, or both.
KJ Buffen’s one of those backups, and he’s a solid-enough defender, but you can boil down his shortcomings to only being 6’7”. Ole Miss’s best shot blocker transferred to Florida State, so this is what you’ve got: a defense that doesn’t block many shots, allows a lot of drives to the basket, and is utterly horrid at defending post-ups.
Over their last few games, Ole Miss got smoked at the rim by opponents you’d expect (Arkansas, 67% hit rate) and opponents you wouldn’t (Florida, 73.9%). It’s not good, man.
The mid-range defense is a little better, but it’s still nothing special. The Rebels don’t block many shots away from the basket, just like they don’t at the basket. It’s not a surprise, then, that you’re looking at the 214th-ranked two-point defense in America. Amazingly – and this is true – this number represents the worst non-Vanderbilt defense left on the schedule. 214th really isn’t that terrible! I mean, it’s bad, but it’s not UNC Asheville (332nd). And yet: this is the least-acceptable defense left that’s won an SEC game in the last year.
Perimeter defense due for regression, IMO
I touched on the perimeter defense earlier, but we’ll dive in a little deeper. Kermit switches between man-to-man defense and a 1-3-1 zone that’s probably better than the normal defense. Either way, it’s allowing several open threes, which oddly do not go in. Again, perspective: Ole Miss’s opponents this season have shot 31.8% from three.
That’s well below the already-low national average of 33.2%. Obviously, Tennessee’s not a lovely shooting team, but someone’s going to take advantage of this in the very near future. (Alabama minus whatever on February 22 looks good to me.)
Uhhh…they’re very good at defensive rebounding, like most of Kermit’s last several teams. Fairly good at stealing the ball from you; Shuler and Buffen in particular seem to be above-average on-ball defenders.
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