Ole Miss basketball isn’t a third of the way through its 2017 conference schedule and already serious lesions are beginning to surface on this club’s output to date. Deandre Burnett — the SEC’s current but temporary third-leading scorer — suffered a high ankle sprain against Georgia last Wednesday, essentially excising Andy Kennedy’s most potent scoring threat not named Sebastian Saiz. But the story is worse than that.
Setting aside the Kentucky shellacking, which was more or less expected, a trend has emerged in the last week or so that should worry Ole Miss hoops fans who were hoping for a possible NCAA Tournament berth this season. Two personnel blows mere days apart doesn’t help things, nor does an average 69.5 offensive rating in the losses to Georgia and South Carolina. What’s more, the Rebs’ field goal percentage in those two losses was just 29.2 percent, while the Bulldogs sunk 40.4 percent of their shots and the Cocks 36.4 percent.
"You have to be able to play through contact, you have to be able to read and react and have to be able to finish plays. We were 6 for 23 in the paint,” said Andy Kennedy after the Carolina loss. He was especially hard on his guys for not stepping up in the absence of Burnett. "We've been deflated ever since he went down against Georgia ... Everybody is looking around where the next-man-up mentality for whatever reason we're looking around and woe is me as opposed to OK, I'm ready for this opportunity."
At the Clarion-Ledger, Antonio Morales points out that just eight players pulled minutes in Columbia on Saturday, with Saiz, Marcanvis Hymon and Justas Furmanavicius all collecting four fouls. Such a lineup obviously will create personnel issues in the heat of battle, which presents yet another obstacle these Basketbears will have to cope with moving forward.
This week, they get a pair of beatable teams in Tennessee and Missouri.
Tale of the tape: Tennessee
Tuesday, Jan. 17, Oxford, Miss. 8 p.m. CT, SEC Network+
At 9-8 (2-3 SEC) Rick Barnes’ club has fared only somewhat better than the Rebs’ 1-4 record in conference play. Senior guard Robert Hubbs leads the Vols this year with 14.4 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, and he’s backed up by junior Detrick Mostella and freshman Grant Williams, both of whom are averaging double-digit points per outing.
What Rocky Top’s 9-8 record doesn’t betray is the fact that the Vols have played against some stellar teams this year. Their opponents’ offensive efficiency is collectively ranked No. 5 by KenPom, and their opponents’ defensive efficiency is ranked No. 4. Tennessee has lost to Wisconsin, Oregon, North Carolina, Florida and unbeaten Gonzaga. These Vols have seen some things.
Tale of the tape: Missouri
Saturday, Jan. 21, Columbia, Mo. 2:30 p.m. CT, SEC Network+
Mizzou (5-11, 0-4 SEC) hasn’t yet won an SEC game this year, and it’d be a shame if Ole Miss gifts them such a victory on Saturday. Junior forward and Texas transfer Jordan Barnett is carrying the lion’s share of production for Kim Anderson this season with 12.7 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Still, those around him are contributing just enough to crest 70.8 points per game as a team, good for 249th in the country right now.
One glaring weakness — among the Tigers’ sundry weaknesses — is their turnover rate, which the Rebs should certainly look to exploit in the midcourt. Even so, Mizzou can defend reasonably enough, ranking No. 68 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency with 98.3 points surrendered per 100 opponent possessions.
Where Tennessee boasts the toughest schedule in SEC, Missouri ranks second to last, ahead of only Mississippi State, who in any case is the only team in the conference with a negative SOS rating by Basketball Reference’s metrics. Ole Miss is ranked third on that list, for whatever the hell that’s worth.
So. Ole Miss can come out of this week with a pair of wins and improve to 3-4 in SEC play, or AK and company can continue the nosedive and end up 1-6. Realistically, either outcome is on the table. Such is Rebel hoops this year.