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Hoops Preview: Ole Miss will steal a win (literally) if you let them

Kermit Davis’s Rebels are offensively-challenged, but are one of the best in the country at forcing turnovers. Can Missouri keep things in hand in Oxford?

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re keeping track of things like Bracketology and Bubble Watch, the question for Missouri’s NCAA Tournament chances appears to be more of, “when and where,” not, “if.”

Our own Sammy Stava has been doing fine work on the Rock-M-Tology series, and he estimates that Missouri is looking at one of the high three-seeds, and maybe even a two-seed if things can break their way. At this point, the tougher part of Missouri’s schedule is over, meaning they should be able to bank plenty of wins and beef up the advanced metrics in time for Selection Sunday.

Of course, the perceived ease of the schedule works two ways. As Matt and Sam pointed out on this week’s Dive Cuts, the latter part of the SEC schedule also means that Missouri no longer has multiple opportunities to pad its resume. Not that the Tigers need it — after all, wins over Illinois, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama and more speak for themselves — but to break into those truly elite seeding ranges, they’ll need some help from the teams above them.

So what can the Tigers do to boost their credentials with the Selection Committee? Take care of business, and do it with some style if you can at all help it.

That journey starts on Wednesday evening in a trip to Oxford. At the beginning of conference play, Mississippi looked like it might be poised for a run at the top of the conference. Kermit Davis’s Rebels were 5-1 in non-conference play, and KenPom liked them enough to have them at No. 38, which is just behind where Missouri sat at the time.

Over the first few weeks of conference play, however, that dream fell apart for Ole Miss. The Rebels are 5-7 since the start of the SEC schedule, including two losses to lowly Georgia and a one-off non-conference loss to Wichita State in Oxford. The last month of the season has been one of runs for them, losing three in a row in early January, followed by two wins, followed by two loss, followed by two more wins.

In those two wins preceding Wednesday night, the Rebels appear to have recaptured some of their earlier form, muscling Tennessee to the mat in a 52-50 rock fight before heading to Auburn and toppling the slumping Tigers in overtime. No doubt Mississippi would love to add a Top 10 pelt to their wall — something impressive to show a selection committee that will take pause with their 2-5 record in Quads 2 and 3.

The Scout

The Starters

Position Missouri (13-3) Ole Miss (10-8)
Position Missouri (13-3) Ole Miss (10-8)
PG Xavier Pinson (Jr., 6'2", 170) Devontae Shuler (Sr., 6'2", 185)
CG Dru Smith (Rs. Sr., 6'3", 203) Jarkel Joiner (Jr., 6'1", 180)
WING Mark Smith (Sr., 6'5", 220) Luis Rodriguez (So., 6'6", 210)
PF Kobe Brown (So., 6'7", 240) Robert Allen (Jr., 6'8", 230)
POST Jeremiah Tilmon (Sr., 6'10", 260) Romello White (Sr., 6'8", 235)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

After a stretch of games playing teams that wanted to run and gun, Missouri will get a cold shower against Ole Miss, a team that likes to play slow and ugly. Should make for a great mid-week match up, no?

Davis relies heavily a few players in his rotation, no one more so than Devontae Shuler. The senior soaks up nearly 30 percent of the team’s shots, a fact that doesn’t exactly play well for the Rebels. Shuler isn’t a great shooter — he’s also not awful — and he’s actually a much better creator and defender than a pure scorer. He’s still Mississippi’s best outside threat, however, at just under 34 percent. Around the rim, though, Arizona State transfer Romello White is the player to watch. White is an efficiency machine around the rim, shooting nearly 68 percent from close range with a top 50 free throw rate in the country. At 6’8” and 235, he’s not a bad rim protector either.

Junior Jarkel Joiner is Shuler’s back court mate, and the two form a dynamic defensive partnership. Both are good at converting from the free throw line and picking up steals on defense, though Joiner doesn’t have Shuler’s pure scoring (or even his shooting) ability. Luis Rodriguez completes the quartet of players who get more than half of Ole Miss’ available minutes, and he may be the most defensively astute of them all. With his length, he’ll be tough even for Missouri’s big guards. He also might be the Rebels’ best pure rebounder, creating a some potential mismatches on the outside.

From there, Kermit Davis has a host of options he can turn to for additional production. Senior Khadim Sy won’t be in action due to a knee injury, meaning Ole Miss will be short on interior depth. That may be doubly true if KJ Buffen can’t get back into the swing of things. Buffen’s streak of 49 straight starts was snapped last month, and the senior has had a sharp drop in play over the past few contests. Kermit Davis says Buffen is working through some “personal circumstances,” and the team would benefit from a bounce back performance. At 6’7” and 230 pounds, he can fill some of the interior space in a pinch, especially considering his ability to block shots and convert around the rim. Junior Robert Allen has been taking up some of Buffen’s minutes, and he’s been a boon to the Rebels’ offensive rebounding, even if he’s not as dynamic offensively.

Hyped freshman Matthew Murrell gets some spot minutes in relief of Shuler and Joiner (what few of them there are), though he’s struggled to make much of an impact. His turnover rate is unsightly, and Murrell has struggled to create for others or himself at the rate you might expect from a former top 50 recruit. Sophomore Austin Crowley is Davis’ other favored option off the bench, though he struggles with the same turnover-prone, offensively challenged game as Murrell. And after putting up impressive numbers at Rider, graduate transfer Dimencio Vaughn has been something of a no-show, getting very limited minutes and not doing anything particularly well when he gets into the game.

When Missouri has the ball...

Missouri Offense vs. Ole Miss Defense

Team Adj. Eff. Poss. Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Team Adj. Eff. Poss. Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Missouri 111.5 (39) 16.6 (101) 50.8 (143) 18.9 (154) 29.5 (122) 40.6 (19) 30 (301) 54 (45) 70.5 (178) 11.9 (332) 9 (162)
Ole Miss 91 (19) 17.1 (164) 49 (138) 24.8 (8) 26.8 (136) 31.9 (180) 37 (297) 45 (34) 70.5 (163) 11.4 (57) 12.3 (14)
NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Take care of the ball

Despite Ole Miss’ average record and lackluster advanced metrics, the Rebels have been able to pick off a number of high quality opponents due to their stingy defense. The Rebels are especially aggressive on the ball, leading the conference in steal percentage and ranking second in total turnover percentage. This, of course, isn’t great news for what can be a turnover-prone Missouri team. But then again, the Tigers have proven pretty sound with their ball-handling at times as well. If Missouri can keep the ball out of the Rebels’ reach, they’ll neutralize the most powerful part of Kermit Davis’ defensive scheme.

When Ole Miss has the ball...

Ole Miss Offense vs. Missouri Defense

Team Adj. Eff. Poss. Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Team Adj. Eff. Poss. Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Ole Miss 104.8 (118) 17.7 (238) 48.4 (238) 20 (215) 33.9 (35) 32.3 (159) 27.9 (336) 51.5 (108) 67.3 (274) 8.3 (131) 9.3 (195)
Missouri 92.8 (32) 16.9 (124) 46.2 (38) 17.6 (260) 29 (212) 35.6 (264) 30.9 (66) 46.1 (57) 68 (77) 9.4 (131) 8.9 (188)
NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Prevent Mississippi from creating second chances

On Dive Cuts, Sam mentioned that Ole Miss — with its aggressive defense and struggling offense — is much closer to Kentucky than Tennessee. And much like Kentucky, Ole Miss struggles with shooting and turnovers, but excels at grabbing offensive rebounds. Mississippi has at least four players who crash the offensive glass, allowing them the opportunity to mask their inefficiencies... even if they don’t take advantage the second time, either. If Missouri can hold the Rebels below their season average — or even win the expected rebounding margin — there may be no way for Mississippi to keep up outside of an especially hot shooting performance.

KenPom predicts...

Missouri 66, Ole Miss 65 | There are a lot of reasons to believe Missouri won’t win on Wednesday evening. They’ve been flirting with disaster as of late. Ole Miss has a habit of picking off top teams in their building. They do some things that give the Tigers fits.

But there are also a lot of reasons to believe Missouri will win. After all, that’s what they continue to do, right? Even KenPom, which has been relatively down on the Tigers this year, has Missouri as a marginal favorite to win this game. It’s probably the most toss-up adjacent contest left on the schedule, and if Missouri can win, they’ll be cruising into their Rally For Rhyan weekend date with Arkansas.