After Ole Miss made it clear they weren’t going to support Andy Kennedy, the downward spiral was quick. While Kennedy was the winningest coach in school history, overachieving with modest resources, Ole Miss’ administration used a quick hook. In stepping down, Kennedy set the program up to hire a good coach. The roster had talent at the top, much better than their 12-20 record showed in Kennedy’s final year.
Kermit Davis deserves some credit for capitalizing on what he inherited, but the roster bears much of Kennedy’s imprint. In the four seasons before a disastrous 2017-18 campaign, Ole Miss’ posted an average record of 10-8 in SEC play. Its record in Davis’ debut season? Try 10-8. So is Davis truly an upgrade? This year will help answer the question.
Previous SEC Previews
- No. 14 Vanderbilt Commodores: Jerry Stackhouse takes over at Vanderbilt with a big rebuild ahead of him
- No. 13 Texas A&M Aggies: Buzz Williams takes over a rebuild at Texas A&M, but he’s certainly the long term answer
- No. 12 South Carolina Gamecocks: This feels like a pivotal year for a Frank Martin team looking to break through
- No. 11 Georgia Bulldogs: Anthony Edwards is going to be the star of the show in Athens
#10 Ole Miss Rebels
Last Season: 20-13 (10 - 8 in conference) No. 50 in KenPom
My Prediction: 18 - 13 (8-10, 10th in conference)
The Masses Prediction: 8.2-9.8 (9th in conference)
SEC Media Prediction: 8th in conference
KenPom Projection: 17 - 13 (8-10 in conference) No. 60 in KenPom
HEAD COACH: Kermit Davis | Second Season, 20-13
In hiring Davis, Ole Miss landed a terrific coach who had maxed out Middle Tennesse. Yet that amounts to three NCAA tournament trips in 15 seasons. The expectations in the Sun Belt Conference and Conference USA are more modest, but Davis quickly restored a sense of confidence and competence in Oxford.
Davis and Kennedy have and still have a lot in common. So the question that still bears answering is if Davis is a better option or provides a higher ceiling than what Kennedy reached? We’re not going to find answers after one season. Or maybe even two. For Davis to prove he’s the right hire, it’s going to take Ole Miss consistently showing up in your bracket to serve as proof.
In recent years, the school has built a new arena and practice facility, beefed up its budget, and made an effort to improve the profile of the job. When Ole Miss decided Kennedy had grown stale, it could have pursued an elite recruiter from a proven program or younger mid-major coach working up the ranks. Instead, the school opted for a veteran coach — and a Mississippi native — looking to make good on a long-awaited job in a high-major conference. There’s little doubt Davis is hungry. But we’ll see if he can make good on the opportunity.
Seat Temp: COLD
Ole Miss hasn’t made consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament since 2002, and it’s only earned nine bids in its entire history. Two of those came under Kennedy, who only had one season where he posted fewer than seven SEC wins — his final one. There’s no glamour in turning a mediocre job into a respectable one, but Kennedy achieved that feat. Now the question is whether Ole Miss becomes more of a player in the conference.
There isn’t a player under contract currently in the NBA with a more overlooked college career than Terence Davis. After a breakout sophomore season, Davis took a step back as a junior. In his final go-around, though, he returned to form, supplying athleticism and shot-making on the wing. He could also be a defensive menace. Davis provided over 20 percent of the Rebels’ scoring with a usage rate of just 15 percent. That’s not only efficient, but hard to replace.
Bruce Stevens provided solid minutes in the post. He was billed as more of a stretch four, but made a dent playing center in small-ball lineups. It might also explain why Dominik Olejniczak decided to transfer for his senior season. The Polish center moved on to Florida State, where he’ll likely find a better fit in Leonard Hamilton’s jumbo lineups.
Both Zach Naylor and Brian Halums transferred out after struggling to find roles in the rotation.
AND, WHO’S BACK?
Breein Tyree | SENIOR | POINT GUARD
After testing the NBA waters, Breein Tyree opted to return to school and terrorize the SEC a little longer. Tyree is an explosive guard who is as good offensively as anyone in the league. His first step gets separation to set up a deadly mid-range jumper and to the rim, where he’s an above-average finisher. Last year, Tyree stirred the drink for Ole Miss, but if there’s an area of improvement for him, it’s going to come from him improving his passing numbers.
Tyree’s assist totals trailed Davis — a non ball-handler — and Devontae Shuler. An assist rate last year of 17.0 was a career low. That can’t continue this year, one where Tyree will have to facilitate as much for his teammates as he does for himself.
However, Blake Hinson might be the most crucial piece of the roster. As long as Tyree and Shuler are healthy, the Rebels can feel confident in what they’re going to get from their starting guards. Hinson is a versatile combo forward who showed flashes of promising moments as a freshman. With Davis moving on, Kermit Davis’ focus will be finding a viable third option. Hinson is the most likely option, mostly because the rest of the returnees appear to be best suited as role players.
It’s easy to like what K.J. Buffen brings to the table because he’s an athletic combo forward who gives a jolt of energy to whatever lineup he’s part of. Still, his offensive tool kit is limited, reliant on stick backs and touches in transition. The rest of the returners are mostly unknowns thanks to a couple of redshirts, and lightly used Luis Rodriguez.
Devontae Shuler | JUNIOR | COMBO GUARD
Tyree is the marquee name, but SEC coaches know Devontae Shuler all too well. Shuler often drew the opposition’s top offensive player and posted a steal rate that was among the nation’s best point guards. Shuler was a menace, mainly if he played in transition. Now he needs to show he can operate against a set defense.
Shuler is explosive, athletic and has good size for a college point guard at 6-foot-2. He opted to return to school after testing the NBA Draft waters last spring. He improved his 3-point shooting from his freshman season to 40.2 percent, while his tempo-free efficiency of 1.11 points per possession was excellent. Most of that stemmed from his ability to play on the break. Once he had to play in the Rebels’ half-court offense, it plummeted to 0.9 PPP — or 21 fewer points over 100 possessions. Still, with Shuler’s skill set, he should be primed to taking another step this season and becoming the clear second option behind Tyree.
AND, WHO’S NEW?
One of the reasons the Ole Miss brass wanted to move on from Kennedy was because of his “average” recruiting. Yet Davis’ class bears a close resemblance to the caliber of player his predecessor brought to Oxford.
Austin Crowley is a nice pickup, with Ole Miss capitalizing on Vanderbilt’s firing of Bryce Drew and letting Crowley out of his letter of intent. He’s a slippery wing with good size and solid range. The player who’ll likely have the most impact on the roster is Khadim Sy. Originally signed by Buzz Williams at Virginia Tech, Sy played 32 games for the Hokies, but saw his playing time steadily depleted. He then decided to spend a season in the JUCO ranks before moving on to Ole Miss. Sy moves well for his size and was one of the more highly rated JUCO players available. Shon Robinson looks like a bigger version of K.J. Buffen, so he should fit in well. He’s light on his feet for a big man and capable of finishing above the rim. Still, he is a project offensively. Antavion Collum owns elite size and has a solid skill level, but he’s struggled to make shots. I’m skeptical about Sammy Hunter, but Bryce Williams should be able to step in and be a part of the rotation right away.
|(1) Point Guard||Breein Tyree||Franco Miller|
|(2) Combo Guard||Devontae Shuler||Bryce Williams|
|(3) Wing||Blake Hinson||Austin Crowley||Antavion Collum|
|(4) Combo Forward||K.J. Buffen||Sammy Hunter||Luis Rodriguez|
|(5) Post||Khadim Sy||Carlos Curry||Shon Robinson|
Outside of Tyree, Shuler and Hinson, the actual depth chart will likely be fluid. If Davis wants to use Hinson as a small-ball four, Crowley or Williams become logical candidates to earn minutes on the wing. Still, the depth on the perimeter isn’t great, while Buffen is the only member of the frontcourt to play valuable minutes. After him, there are a lot of unproven players vying for roles. With so much uncertainty, it’s hard to project what the rotation will like before the season tips off on Nov. 8.
My Projected Record: 18 - 13 | KenPom Projected Record: 17 - 13
|Nov 8||Home||Arkansas State||270||W|
|Nov 12||Home||Norfolk State||295||W|
|Nov 15||Home||Western Michigan||255||W|
|Nov 27||Neutral||Penn State||43||W|
|Nov 29||Neutral||Oklahoma St / Syracuse||40 / 51||L|
|Dec 14||Home||Middle Tennessee||167||W|
|Dec 29||Home||Tennessee Tech||307||W|
|Jan 4||Away||Wichita State||62||L|
Davis did a good job building a manageable schedule. The first four games are a soft entry, followed by a regional matchup against Memphis, who appears to have lined up half the SEC for its non-conference schedule. Without a doubt, Penny Hardaway imported a bunch of talent, but Ole Miss gets the early enough that they might catch the Tigers trying to get acclimated.
Then it’s off to the NIT Tip-Off for a game against Penn State, followed by Oklahoma State or Syracuse. Again, those are tough games, but picking up a win isn’t out of the question. A home game against Butler could be tricky, considering the Bulldogs are a tough out on the road. A road date against Wichita State could be more challenging than facing Memphis. Few teams walk out of Koch Arena with a win.
|Jan 7||Away||Texas A&M||58||L|
|Feb 5||Home||South Caorlina||69||W|
|Feb 11||Home||Mississippi St||53||L|
|Mar 7||Away||Mississippi St||53||W|
The Rebels didn’t get a lot of breaks from the SEC home office, which explains why I have them rated lower. Their home-and-home opponents are Mississippi State, Missouri, Florida, Auburn and LSU. All five of those teams have legitimate aspirations for the NCAA tournament. Posting a 5-5 record in those games might not be enough, either. The Rebels also host South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Alabama and Arkansas, which are all winnable and might be needed to offset the bulk of the schedule. Sweeping them might also be a necessity.
The road schedule has one game the Rebels could win, and that’s their first one: Texas A&M Contests against Tennessee, Georgia, and Kentucky should all be losses. There’s a path to 10-8 — split tough home-and-homes, sweep four remaining home opponents and pick off the Aggies — but the margin of error is slim.
Sometimes narratives built in the early part of seasons are hard to break.
Ole Miss had grown into a respectable program, before it slipped in 2018. And while Davis deserves credit for restoring some order, he didn’t exceed the baseline established by Kennedy. Last season, the Rebels finished 50th in KenPom, which was close to the peak they achieved under their former coach. And that was with a pretty weak non-conference schedule and stealing some unexpected wins early in SEC play.
Once you subtract a sweep of Auburn, the Rebels finished 8-8 in conference play, which is a solid, but unspectacular result. The question now is whether Tyree, Shuler and Hinson can sustain and improve that performance.
The more pressing question for the Rebels: What does it look like for Ole Miss to move out the SEC’s crowded middle?
Tyree is unquestionably the leader of this team, and he was excellent last year, averaging 17 points per game and shooting well from the floor. While his assist rate could be better, he still accounted for roughly 20 percent of the Rebels output. I’m not sure you can expect Tyree to do more than that. Maybe there’s a little more room for growth, but expecting it to improve by 5 to 8 percentage points seems unfair. Consider that Grant Williams was the SEC leader in points last year and he only averaged with just 0.8 points per game more than Tyree.
That production will need to come from somewhere, and it’s more likely Tyree takes a step back in scoring. That explains why Shuler and Hinson need to take a step forward. The most hopeful scenario is one where Shuler produces at a level comparable to Terence Davis, while Hinson becomes a reliable third option. If that happens, the rest of the roster won’t be asked to do too much.
With three clear and consistent producers, Davis can carve out defined roles for Buffen, Williams, Crowley, Sy and Collum. Of that group, Sy might be able to fit in a Stevens or Olejniczak never could. And if Buffen improves his shooting, the offense would have a legitimate fourth option. Or maybe Crowley and Collum add a dimension we don’t expect.
Typically, it’s best to keep our expectations modest for freshmen who aren’t elite prospects. And that means the Rebels depth is in flux. When the margin for error is small and depth is murky, you’ll usually find that a team slips up. Setting aside the fast start to SEC play, the Rebels did that a year ago. A pair of unexpected wins put them on the right side of .500 in conference play.
Tyree is a special player. Shuler has the moxie to take another step. And Hinson has got breakout potential. The questions begin, though, with the rest of the roster. Ole Miss isn’t alone, either. The bulk of SEC rosters find themselves in a similar place. Ultimately, the amount of unproven depth leaves a lot of questions to be answered. If Davis’ top three get some help, the Rebels could repeat the feat they pulled off last season. However, that’s probably the ceiling for this group. And if each question goes unanswered, they’ll slip a little bit further down the pecking order.
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.
* - 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.