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Ole Miss will try to piece their program back together with a new coach

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Previewing the #13 team in the SEC, the Ole Miss Rebels.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Texas A&M C. Morgan Engel-USA TODAY Sports
Ole Miss Preview

#13 Ole Miss Rebels

Last Season: 12 - 20 (5 - 13 in conference) #108 kenpom

My Prediction: 13 - 18 (5 - 13, 13th in conference)

The Masses Prediction: 3.6 - 14.4 (14th in conference) #94 kenpom

NCAA Basketball: Western Kentucky at Middle Tennessee State Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

HEAD COACH: Kermit Davis | 1st season 0 - 0

In a lot of ways Andy Kennedy was the finest basketball coach in Ole Miss history. He became the programs all time winningest basketball coach in 2013 and had three more seasons of 20 win seasons before hitting the skids last year, the rug pulled out from underneath him by his administration, and he ended up leaving mid-season in hopes of helping his Rebels save their season.

It didn’t work.

So the Ole Miss brass cut Kennedy off at the knees the entire offseason heading into the season, let their coach walk, and then hired Kermit Davis.

Davis and Kennedy are friends, and they assembled their rosters at Ole Miss and Middle Tennessee State in similar ways. Transfers, JUCOs, and Offense. The Rebels were always a good offensive team under Kennedy and the Blue Raiders were known for efficiency on both ends. While I think highly of Kennedy, and Davis, the move strikes me as a fairly close parallel. Upgrading their coach by getting someone who’s done it the same way at his last stop. The only thing Davis needs to prove is if he can upgrade what Kennedy was already doing and start upgrading the talent.

The SEC is in an arms race and Ole Miss has never shown a willingness to compete in an arms race in basketball. Now with a new coach in a new arena they’re about to be tested.

Seat Temp: COOL

The last two coaches at Ole Miss have combined for all but three of their NCAA tournament appearances. Kennedy got the Rebels to two, Rod Barnes got them to three. Is two in ten years enough for Rebels fans? Probably not if you want to keep your job. Overall the best turn was five in six years from 1997 to 2002. Is that sustainable? Probably not.

So what is? Probably somewhere in the middle. It’s ok to have higher expectations than your program has had historically, but it’ll be interesting to see how the Rebels fair with the SEC going as deep as it has with coaching and resources.

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%

The Rebels watched some good players walk out the door and it starts with Deandre Burnett. Burnett was one of the best players in the country at drawing fouls, and subsequently found a way to always be contributing. A consistent free throw rate over 50% and solid shooting made Burnett one of the better offensive guards in the SEC. Markel Crawford was a solid player for Memphis for three years and had a somewhat uneven season for Ole Miss as a grad transfer. Crawford’s inconsistency as a shooter limited Ole Miss’ offense in a lot of ways. Marcanvis Hymon never quite developed into anything more than a solid role guy, and Justas Furmanavicius was a dude who I always had trouble saying his name.

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: Tennessee at Mississippi Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Terence Davis | SENIOR | WING

One of the more underrated players two seasons ago, Terrence Davis struggled to find his consistency on the floor last year. His numbers dipped all the way across the line and with some (me) even thinking he could take a step forward, he backwards move was one of the causes of the Rebels slide. But Davis’ athleticism and earnestness for the attack should keep him in the good graces of his new head coach who can hopefully find the T.D. on switch more often than not. A consistent Terrence Davis will go a long ways toward pushing Ole Miss out of the cellar and into the middle of the SEC pack.

The good news for Kermit Davis is he returns more than 50% of the minutes and offensive value from last year. The bad news is when things went south, so did half of his current roster. I do like the excitability of Devontae Shuler as a second ball handler on the floor. He’s capable of making shots from any spot on the floor and showed a willingness to throw himself at the rim. Bruce Stevens was mostly disappointing last year, he was billed as a stretch post, someone who would draw the defense away from the basket, then he shot 27.5% from deep. Stevens is capable, but another piece Davis needs to get going. Dominik Olejniczak wasn’t quite the skilled passing big the Rebels were hoping to get as a replacement for Sebastian Saiz. Instead Olejniczak had trouble staying on the floor and competing with the athleticism of the SEC post players.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Breein Tyree | JUNIOR | POINT GUARD

Breein Tyree is capable of being really really good. He’s a point guard who can score and who probably put a little too much pressure on himself to be the main scorer a year ago instead of working to involve his teammates more. Tyree became a reliable shooter from outside which allowed him to create a lot of shots off the bounce due to tighter defenses. But he largely operated in the mid-range instead of getting to the third level causing defenses to collapse, instead he just forced them to sink. His next step will be to be more adept at getting all the way to the interior of the defense and finishing over the top or causing enough of a collapse to generate easy kick outs.

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

Most new coaches like to take over and flex as much of the roster as possible. Davis did this and now supplements a few nice leftovers with some key developmental pieces. Most of the roster appears to fit into the positionless style of play with heights ranging from 6’2 to 6’11 but five of the seven being between 6’5 and 6’8. The top ranked player in the class is Blake Hinson who should fit nicely as the prototypical combo forward spot. He’s capable of expanding range but is strong and athletic enough to move around the basket. Zach Naylor and K.J. Buffen likely play the role of energy guys at the four, possibly moving Hinson around to the three at times. While I’d be surprised to see Luis Rodriguez beat anyone out on the wing, he has a nice frame to build upon if Davis can get him to stay patient. Brian Halums is a springy athlete with a developing offensive game and should be able to log some minutes off the ball this season.

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

This looks a bit like a rebuild. There are some decent pieces but frankly there just aren’t enough knowns on the roster to think Ole Miss can make a serious move. There doesn’t appear to be any top tier talent but the back court is solid, the front court leaves a lot to be desired, and there’s questionable depth all over. Not really what you want if you’re hoping to contend in this seasons version of the SEC.

SCHEDULE

My Projected Record: 13 - 18 | KenPom projected record: 13 - 17

NCAA Basketball: Houston at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-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

I’m not sure how many of these games had been agreed upon prior to Kermit Davis taking over but you’d have to imagine a handful. Andy Kennedy was always fond of playing a reasonably tough schedule and this one lines up with some previous tough schedules they’ve had in the past.

For starters they chose to nearly open with Butler on the road. The Bulldogs were a top 20 program a year ago and return a lot of talent. They’ll miss Kelan Martin at the forward position but Kamar Baldwin has star potential and could break out. Then they’ll have to tangle back to back against Baylor and Cincinnati. The Bears should be a bit of a mystery this season as they graduated a bunch from last year and have an influx of transfers and freshmen to the mix this season. While Cincinnati will mark a very tough matchup returning nearly all of their backcourt production. Yet if the Rebs can find a way to win all the games they should win and find a way to pick up one or two of the games they shouldn’t that might provide them some momentum heading into the conference season.

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

This is what I’d call a pretty even draw. Getting Auburn and Mississippi State twice is going to be tough, as both project towards the top of the conference. Missouri is looking like a full middle of the pack team, while Arkansas and Georgia will likely be picked towards the back end. They waste two home games getting Kentucky and Tennessee there, meaning their home slate is more exciting but also tougher to pick up wins. They also get LSU at home and LSU has the interior bigs to punish Ole Miss inside. All in all this is a schedule where the Rebels have enough opportunities to not be awful, but there enough breaks to get them over the hump.

OVERVIEW

The demise of Andy Kennedy has been documented thoroughly over the course of the last several months. From an entertainment perspective not a lot was lost because Kennedy moved smoothly into the broadcast booth and lit up the air waves. But Kennedy being out at Ole Miss changes the future and perspective of a program that for the last 8-10 years looked to be on solid footing.

Kermit Davis has had an uneven rise up the ladder. From being the youngest division one head coach in the country to resigning in scandal at Texas A&M after just one season, Davis embarked on a redemption tour and eventually found himself in Murfreesboro, TN at Middle Tennessee State. The Blue Raiders hadn’t won 20 games in more than a decade. They needed a jolt. The jolt wasn’t immediate. Davis and the MTSU program needed each other, and they needed some time, and then he got it going. Over the last seven years Davis averaged 25.5 wins a season.

Andy Kennedy may have had some flaws but one thing he did was win 20 games a year. In his 11 full seasons he hit 20 wins nine times. So the questions becomes about expectation for Ole Miss. Davis has proven he can perform, but he’s taking over at a school with no real historical success, no NBA presence to speak of, and they hired a coach who built a powerhouse at a lower level but it took him 10 years to get there.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-South Carolina vs Mississippi Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

Davis isn’t completely starting from scratch like he did before. MTSU didn’t have a history of recent success but Ole Miss has gotten a taste thanks to Kennedy. Ole Miss was on the brink a few years ago, and the recruiting classes were getting better but overall things just fell a bit flat. As the league got better, the coaching hires were more competitive the program was at a point of “fish or cut bait”. They chose to cut bait and take a chance on Davis.

Kennedy wasn’t likely to get the Rebels past where he’d already got them. Can Davis? The Blue Raiders played at a plodding pace and it’s a little bit of a sea change for what the Rebels have been. Kennedy preferred a higher tempo. The roster make up still features athletes who might fit better with a faster pace. Fast and athletic guards and a general lack of depth and talent inside leaves a preference for pace and space.

So where does Davis take Ole Miss. What sort of lead will his rope have?

This year might be a tough one for the Rebels to work their way up the chain but Davis hasn’t been shy about going after a higher caliber athlete. He’s going to have to start landing them if he’s going to last in Oxford as long as he did in Murfreesboro.


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.