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Perennially underrated Ole Miss begins hoops season underrated

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Previewing the #7 team in the SEC, the Ole Miss Rebels.

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Mississippi Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
Ole Miss Preview

#7 Ole Miss Rebels

Last Season: 22 - 14 (10 - 8 in conference) #74 kenpom

My Prediction: 19 - 12 (9 - 9, 7th in conference)

The Masses Prediction: 5.6 - 12.4 (13th in conference)

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

HEAD COACH: Andy Kennedy | 12th season 234-130

When people talk about the best coaches in the SEC you never hear Andy Kennedy’s name. Yet Kennedy went to a struggling program that has historically been a very difficult place to win, with virtually no budget, and he builds a very competitive team annually down in Oxford. Since the expansion of the SEC to include Missouri and Texas A&M, Kennedy is 52-40 in league play. 12 games over .500 at Ole Miss is a very big deal. On top of that, in 12 years the Rebels have only been below .500 in conference play three times, and each of those times they were 7-9 (pre-Mizzou/A&M). Kennedy rarely gets the credit he deserves but he’s built a program which, to this point, I’m very willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Seat Temp: COOL

Ole Miss 10 year look preview 2017

For all his success the Rebels have only made two NCAA tournaments in the last ten years. Yet Kennedy owns more than 25% of the trips to the tournament in Ole Miss history. So what is the standard for Ole Miss? I do think it’s a place that has historically placed little emphasis on basketball, and have gotten what they paid for. Now, they’re starting to invest, but they still lag way behind the rest of the league. If Kennedy can find a way to go to the tournament every 3rd or 4th year I think that’s an achievement.

SO, WHO’S GONE?

name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
Deandre Burnett graduation 31 67.45% 17.31% 23.21% 18.69%
Markel Crawford graduation 32 76.07% 12.16% 13.98% 13.09%
Marcanvis Hymon graduation 32 47.84% 5.85% 5.13% 4.00%
Justas Furmanavicius graduation 32 41.38% 4.16% 2.93% 2.50%
Ilya Tyrtyshnik transfer 3 0.38% 0.00% 0.00% 0.17%
46.62% 39.48% 45.25% 38.45%

When it comes to the questions about Ole Miss going into the season, the loss of Sebastian Saiz sits at the apex of those questions, namely interior play. In Saiz, the Rebels had a reliable scorer and rebounder on the inside. Saiz drew fouls at a high clip and was one of the most consistent players in the SEC. He’ll be missed this year as Ole Miss searches to replace his interior production. Cullen Neal came in with some fanfare but had a rather uneven season, when he played well the Rebels were much tougher to beat. Rasheed Brooks was another one in a long line of solid junior college additions, Brooks provided solid minutes but it’s the kind of production that’s replaceable. And last the Rebels lost Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey to transfer after regressing in production from his freshman to sophomore years.

AND, WHO’S BACK?

player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
Terence Davis SR WING 32 67.22% 18.14% 55.97% 15.70%
Breein Tyree JR PG 32 62.07% 14.30% 54.72% 17.64%
Bruce Stevens SR POST 32 54.99% 14.22% 71.27% 10.81%
Devontae Shuler SO CG 32 46.38% 7.96% 44.46% 7.40%
Dominik Olejniczak JR POST 32 34.61% 5.69% 57.48% 3.15%
D.C. Davis* SR CG 5 1.23% 0.21% 80.65% 0.13%
Antonio Morgano* SO PG 1 0.08% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
Eric Horn* JR CF 2 0.15% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
53.35% 60.52% 56.77% 54.83%
NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Deandre Burnett | SENIOR | COMBO GUARD

It’s not often you find a 5th year senior with only two seasons of basketball under his belt. But that’s where Deandre Burnett is these days. Burnett redshirted due to injury at Miami, played a year after that, then transferred. Last season for the Rebels he was a dude in leading the Rebels in scoring but also was first in assists as well. Doing all of that while dealing with multiple injuries is no small feat, and Burnett certainly has the ability to take over games with his scoring. Efficiency wasn’t always the highest but this season Burnett has enough shooting and playmaking around him the pressure may be off enough he could go off. I’d be surprised if Burnett didn’t lead the team in scoring again, but he’ll have a little more perimeter help.

I don’t know if I’d call Breein Tyree an unheralded recruit, but it’s safe to say not a lot was expected from him early on. And he didn’t deliver a whole lot early on either, but he did late. After playing sparingly and chipping in rarely in the non-conference schedule, Tyree hit a stride in mid-January and didn’t turn back. Look for Tyree to handle the bulk of the minutes at Point Guard this ear, and to be an important cog in the plans for this team moving forward. Justas Furmanavicius (Fur-mah-NAH-vih-chus) plays the important role of undersized four-man energy guy. He rebounds hard and does a lot of the little things, he’ll find plenty of minutes. Marcanvis Hymon is a similar player but a better overall athlete. He’s a great rebounder for his size, but his skill level has always begged for him to be about 2-3 inches taller. The rest of the pack didn’t contribute much a year ago, but keep your eyes on Drake transfer Dominik Olejniczak (Oh-leh-NI-chick). He’s a big strong legit 7-footer who the Rebels are going to rely upon a bunch in hopes of solving the missing Saiz from this years roster.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Terence Davis | JUNIOR | WING

I love the way Terence Davis plays basketball. He’s a fearless wing who will attack the rim and isn’t afraid of taking on a bigger body on his way to the basket. He’s a fantastic athlete who has clearly benefited from his focus on basketball since arriving at Ole Miss. I think there are a host of underrated players throughout the league but Davis has to be at the very top of the list of most underrated. He needs to improve his overall efficiency, particularly when shooting from the outside, but you have to love his toughness and athleticism. I could see Davis taking a slightly smaller load on this year with some progress from Tyree and the import of Markel Crawford, but make no mistake he’s a guy to keep a serious eye on when it comes to the success of the Rebels.

THEN, WHO’S NEW?

class player ht wt rating ranking pos
class player ht wt rating ranking pos
Fr Blake Hinson 6'7 229 ★★★ 145 CF
Fr Luis Rodriguez 6'6 202 ★★★ 195 WING
Fr K.J. Buffen 6'7 220 ★★★ 229 CF
Fr Carlos Curry 6'11 235 ★★★ 412 POST
Fr Franco Miller Jr. 6'2 202 - - PG
Jr Zach Naylor 6'8 220 - - CF
Jr Brian Halums 6'5 188 - - WING

Devontae Shuler is a really well regarded point guard from Oak Hill, plucked by Andy Kennedy for all the right reasons. He’s a total Kennedy guard. Tough, physical and an underrated athlete. Shuler will fit right in. Illya Tyrtyshnik could be a very under the radar kind of pickup, one of the top prospects out of Europe and the Ukraine, Tyrtyshnik (Ter-TEE-shnick) is a skilled ball handler and passer and an above average shooter. Bruce Stevens has a chance to contribute right away as the Rebels are thin on the interior and he’s a classic power forward style post player. But the guy most expect the most from is Memphis grad-transfer Markel Crawford. Crawford was a highly efficient scorer during his years at Memphis and now he’ll have even more guard talent around him to relieve some of that pressure.

DEPTH CHART

position starter backup third
position starter backup third
(1) Point Guard Breein Tyree Franco Miller Jr.
(2) Combo Guard Devontae Shuler Luis Rodriguez
(3) Wing Terrence Davis Brian Halums
(4) Combo Forward Blake Hinson Zach Naylor K.J. Buffen
(5) Post Bruce Stevens Dominik Olejniczak Carlos Curry

I’ve got 6’4 Terence Davis starting here at the four because Andy Kennedy has a fantastic cadre of guards to choose from and not many bigs, and Davis is the most physical of his guards, so here ya go. Not a super physically imposing lineup, but that’s a lot of skill and something which could work for Kennedy. Hymon or Furmanavicius could also start at the four and move one of the guards to the bench. I just think those four guards and even Devontae Shuler are going to be the primary guys with Furmanavicius, Hymon, Stevens and Olejniczak handling most of the minutes inside.

SCHEDULE

My Projected Record: 19 - 12 | KenPom Projected Record: 18 - 12

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Virginia Tech Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

NON-CONFERENCE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Nov 10 Home Western Michigan 214 W
Nov 16 Away Butler 31 L
Nov 20 Home Nicholls State 294 W
Nov 23 Neutral Baylor 40 L
Nov 24 Neutral Cincinnati 44 L
Nov 28 Home San Diego 135 W
Dec 1 Home ULM 242 W
Dec 8 Away Illinois State 87 W
Dec 12 Home* Southeastern LA 274 W
Dec 16 Home UT-Chattanooga 314 W
Dec 21 Road* Middle Tennessee 154 L
Dec 29 Home Florida Gulf Coast 203 W
Jan 26 Home Iowa State 25 L
avg 158.23

Andy Kennedy usually plays a fairly tough schedule. He was the first to call when Dan Muller challenged power conference schools to schedule Illinois State with a home and home. The first game of that series happens in December of this year, with a return trip to Bloomington-Normal, IL for round two next year. Ole Miss catches a bit of a break as the Redbirds won’t be nearly as tough as they were last year after a few key losses. The Rebels early slate is decent but they should stay undefeated until a neutral court matchup in the MGM Grand Main Event in Las Vegas, against Utah which could prove tough. The Utes are probably taking a step back after losing a bunch of production, but Larry Krystkowiak is always a difficult matchup. A home game against an experienced and talented Virginia Tech team will be tough, if Ole Miss can manage to win that game they’ll set themselves up nicely for conference play and a run at the NCAA tournament.

CONFERENCE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Jan 5 Away Vanderbilt 69 L
Jan 9 Home Auburn 17 L
Jan 12 Away Mississippi St 23 L
Jan 15 Home LSU 50 L
Jan 19 Home Arkansas 64 W
Jan 22 Away Alabama 51 L
Jan 30 Away Florida 19 L
Feb 2 Home Mississippi St 23 W
Feb 6 Home Texas A&M 48 W
Feb 9 Away Georgia 101 L
Feb 13 Away Auburn 17 L
Feb 16 Home Missouri 43 W
Feb 19 Away South Carolina 42 L
Feb 23 Home Georgia 101 W
Feb 27 Home Tennessee 11 L
Mar 2 Away Arkansas 64 L
Mar 5 Home Kentucky 7 L
Mar 9 Away Missouri 43 L
avg 44.06

The Rebels catch a bit of a break with their home and home opponents. There isn’t a single team who they couldn’t theoretically sweep. Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi State and Auburn are all likely to be within a game or two of the Rebels in the standings, so capturing a win on the road against one or two of them could be all it takes to send Ole Miss dancing. They have two very tough road games against Texas A&M and Kentucky, neither would be an expected win even at home. But home games against Florida, Alabama and Vanderbilt are opportunities to gain ground. When you look at the schedule, there is a real possibility of the Rebels sneaking into the top tier of the SEC and making an NCAA tournament.

OVERVIEW

The title of my Ole Miss piece from last year was “Underestimate Ole Miss at your own peril” and it held up. The masses predicted Ole Miss to basically go 7-11, RedCupRebellion predicted 11-7 and I said 9-9 (weird). The Rebs went 10-8. Not quite meeting their fan expectations but far exceeding the expectations of the rest of the SEC. So at what point do expectations rise for Ole Miss? They clearly have for me and have for Ole Miss fans, but the rest of the SEC continues to underestimate what this program is capable of.

Maybe it’s the goofiness Andy Kennedy exudes. His willingness to play the role of jester with his alter-ego “Randy Kennedy” for Ole Miss Athletics videos or his “aw shucks”-level truthiness in his post game press conferences, but either way Kennedy doesn’t get much respect, even in Oxford. I don’t think the road for them gets any easier, but if the guard production Ole Miss got last year is at least consistent with what they get this year, they’re going to be an incredibly difficult out in SEC play.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

There are five legitimate SEC guards on this team, but the big question comes from what happens in the post? Kennedy has always been adept at using alternative lineups to coax the best offensive output, even if it means they give up a bit defensively. But the interior is a huge question mark and we will all need to wait and see what they get, mainly from Olejniczak. It almost seems unfair to put the amount of burden on his shoulders, but at 7’0 and 255 he can handle it. It will also help if Bruce Stevens can provide a lot of support and even play along side Olejniczak at times because the SEC is deep and there are a lot of teams on the Rebs schedule with a lot of size.

Really, I get why people are looking at Ole Miss as a candidate to take a step back. They’re unproven on the interior and their cast of guards is good but are any of them great? The league has gotten better and their opponents will be rolling out pro talent on the interior. If Ole Miss doesn’t hold serve more often than not at home it’s entirely possible things get rough through some tough stretches in conference. For example if Ole Miss does start 2-5 in conference, that home game against a good Alabama team is crucial to saving the season. But going 3-4 or 4-3 in that stretch instead of 2-5 and suddenly Ole Miss is looking like a team that can get to 11 or possibly even 12 wins.

This year more than any is one where there is such a solid second tier of teams and I think the Rebels are solidly in that second tier. Capable of finishing 4th or 11th. Much of where they end up will just depend on what they get from their interior guys, and how ready for prime time some of the up and coming challengers are. Because if Auburn, Mississippi State and Missouri aren’t quite ready, veterans like Burnett, Davis and Crawford will eat on a regular basis.


About the preview: a number of respected basketball bloggers were asked to submit one pick the entire league schedule game by game. Because these are game by game picks, they often tend to be a bit of a rosier picture of each teams potential. Each rep’s picks are reflected in the record prediction for the site listed at the top of the page, and within “the Masses” picks as well. Included in “the Masses” are various SEC media members who made picks at my request also.

If you’d like to submit your picks, click here for the Google Form we used.


GLOSSARY

* - an asterisk denotes a walk-on player

GP - Games Played

%min - percentage of total available minutes played, does not account for time missed due to injury

%ov - offensive team value, simple formula of (%points + %rebounds) - %turnovers/*100, similar to Offensive Rating but places more value on performance to the team

%poss - percentage of team possessions the player is responsible for ending a possession, whether by making a shot, missing a shot not rebounded by the offense or committing a turnover.

%pts - percentage of teams points scored

ts% - true shooting percentage, basically points scored divided by 2x fga +0.44*fta.