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Ole Miss is looking to reverse their fortunes after a rocky season last year

Previewing the No. 11 team in the SEC, the Ole Miss Rebels.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Mississippi Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

If you’ve read these previews over the years, you know we’re Andy Kennedy fans and were skeptical of swapping him out for Kermit Davis. Ole Miss is a program where the bar is typically low, and administrators never truly invested resources to make it competitive. In the later years of Kennedy’s tenure, though, that changed. The budget increased, and in his last season, the school opened a new on-campus arena. After a bumpy start, leadership decided to reboot, but since Davis’ arrival from Middle Tennessee, the results have remained uneven. So, what can we really expect from this program moving forward? We’re still trying to figure that out.


Previous SEC Previews

Ole Miss Preview

#11 Ole Miss Rebels

Last Season: 15-17 (6-12 in conference) No. 102 KenPom

My Prediction: 13-14 (7-11, 11th in conference)

SEC Media Prediction: 9th in conference

KenPom Projection: 18-9 (10-8 in conference) No. 42

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Mississippi Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

HEAD COACH: Kermit Davis | Third Season, 35-30

Let’s be really clear: Davis can coach. His 16 seasons at Middle Tennessee confirm that. But his first two seasons in Oxford have been mixed. The first saw him guide the Rebels to the NCAA tournament, where they were flattened by Oklahoma in a first-round loss. The core of that group returned last season but limped to a 6-12 mark in the SEC. If you believe that Ole Miss is genuinely raising the bar, Davis’ third season is a crucial litmus test. No, a top-four finish isn’t critical, but a return to the big dance would rekindle momentum.

Seat Temp: COLD

ole miss 10 year preview

With more investment comes more expectations. Kennedy elevated the program, but, given the dollars spent, bumped up against a ceiling. And while we applaud him for maxing out what he was given, he still made just two trips to the NCAA tournament in a dozen years. So far, Davis is one of two in that column.

Over the last decade, Ole Miss has pulled itself out of the SEC cellar, while its highest finish in KenPom was 34th. Yet the swings have been wide in the past three seasons: two sub-100 finishes bookending a tournament bid. Often, the Rebels float between 60th and 80th in Pomeroy’s ratings. Perfect? No. But it also speaks to how effectively Kennedy made use of duct tape and bailing twine to assemble a respectable program.

SO, WHO’S GONE?

name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
Breein Tyree graduation 32 83.18% 27.63% 25.42% 24.86%
Blake Hinson transfer 28 67.60% 12.86% 9.82% 13.29%
Bryce Williams transfer 29 28.53% 4.08% 2.86% 4.64%
Carlos Curry transfer 17 6.05% 0.54% 0.35% 0.70%
Franco Miller transfer 19 10.70% 0.27% -0.68% 1.14%
Connor McKay graduation 2 0.23% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
39.26% 45.38% 37.77% 44.63%

One thing about Davis is he isn’t afraid to flip a roster. Sometimes, it’s guys opting to move on. In other cases, a slight nudge is needed. That’s certainly the case with this edition of the Rebels.

You have to start with Breein Tyree, who was the heart and soul of the program the last three years. Tyree was also the prime driver of the Rebels’ offense. For example, he dropped a 40-point bomb on Mississippi State in a rivalry game. Ole Miss pumped a quarter of its possessions through Tyree — a gap that can be tough to close.

Still, Tyree was a senior. You could plan for his departure. But Blake Hinson? That exit falls in the other category. His transfer caught many off guard, because his role on the floor seemed solidified. The combo forward’s game was perimeter-oriented, and he was useful face-up threat playing off Tyree. With more possessions available, it seemed inevitable his importance would grow. Instead, he’s at Iowa State. Bryce Williams was a reserve who saw semi-consistent minutes, but losing Carlos Curry or Franco Miller was no real loss to the offensive production as they rarely saw the floor.

THEN, WHO’S BACK?

player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
Devontae Shuler SR CG 32 82.17% 16.94% 52.00% 19.35%
K.J. Buffen JR CF 32 71.63% 14.63% 55.70% 18.89%
Khadim Sy SR POST 31 56.51% 12.68% 58.60% 13.23%
Luis Rodriguez JR WING 5 8.68% 1.31% 46.70% 2.40%
Sammy Hunter SO CF 27 23.72% 3.53% 47.10% 2.37%
Austin Crowley SO CG 32 42.33% 4.12% 48.10% 4.76%
Antavion Collum SO CF 22 17.52% 1.27% 41.70% 1.25%
John McBride SO WING 9 1.16% 0.14% 21.40% -0.01%
Shon Robinson R-FR POST REDSHIRT
60.74% 54.62% 62.24%
NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-Georgia vs Mississippi Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Devontae Shuler | SENIOR | COMBO GUARD

Your faith in Ole Miss dovetails with your feelings about Devontae Shuler. If the senior finally becomes a steady producer, the Rebels become a dangerous group. Shuler is electric in the open floor and a menace defensively, but his shooting and decision-making in the half court have been problematic. Overall, his shooting dipped from his sophomore year as his usage rate went up. That’s not unheard of, but it also puts the onus on Davis to make his best offense player potent and efficient. Do that, and Shuler is going to be the leader this team needs.

Ole Miss returns a fair amount of production besides Shuler, most notably starters Khadim Sy and KJ Buffen. Buffen is an athletic combo forward with good length but a somewhat limited skill set. However, he’s a big part of what they do defensively. Sy is a reliable post player who’s solid but unspectacular going to work around the basket. Sammy Hunter and Antavion Collum both provided additional minutes at the combo forward. Hunter is more at home playing in the post, while Collum fits on the wing.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Austin Crowley | SOPHOMORE | WING

Needing some scoring punch on the wing, Ole Miss may turn to Austin Crowley. A former four-star recruit who flipped his commitment from Vanderbilt, Crowley has ideal size and skill for a guard in the SEC. That said, he didn’t make much of an impression as an understudy for Tyree and Shuler. This season, Crowley should have more minutes and a greater opportunity to prove his value. Crowley’s opportunities were limited. Will he provide the kind of boost Ole Miss needs?

AND, WHO’S NEW?

class player ht wt rating ranking pos
class player ht wt rating ranking pos
Fr Matthew Murrell 6'4 200 ★★★★ 39 WING
Fr Marcus Niblack 6'11 210 ★★★ 412 PG
Jr Robert Allen 6'9 230 Transfer Samford POST
Sr Dimencio Vaughn 6'7 215 Grad Transfer Rider CG
Sr Romello White 6'3 180 Grad Transfer Arizona State POST

Much of the excitement around Ole Miss — and its ability to reset quickly — is based on a crop of newcomers. The good news is that if Crowley struggles, Davis can turn to Matthew Murrell, a top 50 prospect who has a college-ready body and an ideal skillset to help. His size and ability remind me a lot of Aaron Nesmith. Dimencio Vaughn, a graduate transfer from Rider, has good size on the wing but can slide down to the four spot in a pinch. Arizona State transfer Romello White will help the Rebels as a reliable double-digit scorer and good rebounder with ample power-conference experience. Robert Allen transfers in from Samford as a slender 6-foot-8 post.

DEPTH CHART

position starter backup third
position starter backup third
(1) Point Guard Devontae Shuler Austin Crowley
(2) Combo Guard Matthew Murrell Luis Rodriguez
(3) Wing Dimencio Vaughn Antavion Collum Sammy Hunter
(4) Combo Forward K.J. Buffen Shon Robinson Robert Allen
(5) Post Romello White Khadim Sy

This is a guess at this point, but I think you start with Shuler, White and Murrell. After that, the lineup might be dependent on match-ups. The versatility that Buffen provides alongside Vaughn’s experience would make for a solid starting five.

SCHEDULE

My Projected Record: 13-14 | KenPom Projected Record: 18-9

**Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the schedule is subject to change — We learned just a bit ago the Ole Miss program is on pause due to Contact tracing and the first 3 games are cancelled. **

NCAA Basketball: South Florida at Memphis Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

NON-CONFERENCE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Nov 25 Home Central Arkansas 257 W
Nov 26 Home Jackson State 305 W
Nov 27 Home Arkansas State 220 W
Dec 5 Home Memphis 39 L
Dec 12 Home UNC-Wilmington 239 W
Dec 16 Away Middle Tennessee 161 W
Dec 19 Away Dayton 49 L
Dec 22 Home UT-Martin 338 W
Jan 2 Home Wichita State 74 W
avg 186.89 4-1

Non-conference scheduling is a challenge this season, but commend Ole Miss for wrangling some decent opponents. Memphis should be tough again, and even if Dayton isn’t quite the same as last season, Anthony Grant has the Flyers rolling. Wichita State is replacing Gregg Marshall, so who knows what they’re going to look like this year. Finally, there’s a pretty tough road contest at Middle Tennessee. The rest are buy games.

CONFERENCE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Dec 29 Away Alabama 46 L
Jan 6 Home Auburn 66 W
Jan 9 Home South Carolina 60 W
Jan 12 Away Florida 24 L
Jan 16 Home Georgia 92 W
Jan 19 Away Mississippi State 78 L
Jan 23 Home Texas A&M 68 W
Jan 27 Away Arkansas 54 L
Jan 30 Away Georgia 92 L
Feb 2 Home Tennessee 20 L
Feb 6 Away Auburn 66 L
Feb 10 Home Missouri 58 W
Feb 13 Away South Carolina 60 L
Feb 17 Home LSU 37 W
Feb 20 Home Mississippi State 78 W
Feb 23 Away Missouri 58 L
Feb 27 Away Vanderbilt 126 L
Mar 2 Home Kentucky 11 L
avg 60.78 7-11

As you can probably assume, I’m a little at odds with most human and analytic forecasts. That doesn’t mean I don’t see the opportunity in front of the Rebels. Their schedule is loaded with games against teams who finish between sixth and 11th in the standings. And a lot of those games are in Oxford. With a couple of results in their favor, the Rebels can leapfrog the likes of South Carolina, Missouri and Auburn. They also lucked out with Mississippi State and Georgia as home-and-homes. Steal a road win at both, and Davis’ group quickly moves from seven wins to 10 or 11.

OVERVIEW

When the preseason rankings filtered out, I was a little surprised to see so many people with higher expectations for the Rebels. Last year was a disappointment, and Davis was losing his most consistent scoring threat and some other quality pieces. Meanwhile, the key cog for this group has been mostly inconsistent. There’s no doubt Shuler has a high ceiling, but he hasn’t lacked for possessions before. What makes this season different? And the secret of graduate transfers is that the vast majority see their usage and production decline when they transfer up. For Ole Miss to thrive, it needs players like Vaughn or Jarkel Joiner to pan out.

ole miss synergy 2020

Individually, there’s a lot to like about the offseason additions. They fill positions of need on the wing and add depth to the frontline. It also helps that the middle of the SEC should be squishy. It’s not hard to cobble together a positive case for Davis’ program.

It’s why I’m not put off by differing opinions. Outside of the top five and bottom four, the margins between teams are really fine. You could wind up seeing teams that finish fifth through 10th clustered together in a 10- to 15-spot range in KenPom. It’s why we go through and pick the result of every game on the SEC schedule. The luck of the draw and flipping a few results can produce radically different outcomes.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi State at Mississippi Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The positive case for the Rebels is easy to grasp: there’s enough continuity and intriguing imports to offset Tyree’s exit, Shuler’s inconsistency, and a sophomore class that might be hit or miss. At Middle Tennessee, Davis’ template relied on transfers, making the integration of Vaughn, White, Joiner and Allen a little more seamless.

Still, Davis’ run of success came after nine mostly mediocre seasons in Murfreesboro. And even those teams that thrived in the regular season fell flat when they arrived at the conference tournament. It wasn’t until Davis’ 10th season that Blue Raiders won 27 games and cracked the top 50 in Pomeroy’s ratings. And while those teams had transfers, they were groups that still had several seasons of experience playing together.

To buy into this group, you need to believe Shuler puts it all together, Buffen fills Hinson’s void, and Murrell is a plug-and-play option on the wing. Should those developments transpire, Ole Miss can crack the top half of the standings. At the very least, Vaughn and White should be rotational assets. Sy isn’t going to hurt you, either. Among Shuler, Buffen, Crowly and Murrell, three members of that foursome need to take noticeable steps forward.

Reasons to be OPTIMISTIC

Ole Miss brings back an electric point guard, two reliable forwards, and adds veterans in key spots. If Shuler and Murrell are consistent, the Rebels should be a really tough team to beat in any environment.

Reasons to be PESSIMISTIC

Davis still has to replace two of his top three scorers from a team that was inconsistent. After jumping out to a 4-1 start in the SEC during Davis’ first season, the Rebels have gone just 12-19 since. While the schedule is favorable, there are a lot of questions Ole Miss needs to answer to live up to expectations.


About the preview: In past years we’ve had a single Google Form where a number of respected basketball bloggers were asked to submit one pick of the entire league schedule game by game. Because the Coronavirus has impacted just about everything, the schedule came out so late we were unable to run through this process. I worked with Matt Harris to get as much of a consensus between our two outcomes of picks (they are still game by game) but in the end these are all MY picks. I’ve tried to include the SEC Media’s predictions and KenPom’s preseason ratings into the preview to set some kind of balance.


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.