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Ole Miss basketball preview: The Rebs are primed for a tournament run

The Basketsharks return an experienced backcourt. Can they capitalize on that?

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN released their complete ranking of all 351 college basketball teams on Thursday, and Ole Miss sits at No. 59, just behind Florida State and just ahead of Temple. That’s some pretty good company to find yourself in before a single second of basketball has been played this season.

But with the regular season beginning just eight days from now, it’s a good time to sit down and think about how things might shake out. Andy Kennedy’s men are experienced — especially among his guard set — but lacking in size. The largest question mark in fact involves the five spot, which will probably be mainly occupied by Dominik Olejniczik, a sophomore transfer from Drake.

The Rebs’ thinness down low may not present such an issue as may first seem, though. AK relies heavily on good guard play and mid- to long-range shooting, as evidenced by his lone SEC tournament victory coming with Marshall Henderson raining down threes on any given night. And never forget that the Rebs’ most recent NCAA tournament appearance featured the one-two tandem of Jarvis Summers and Stefan Moody.

So, given that Kennedy has netted himself a cadre of capable and actually good players around the perimeter, let’s find out how a supposed starting five may fit together and then take a not-too-deep look into the bench.

The hand: Breein Tyree

Tyree looked great last year, coming on in the early part of the season to eventually run the one, which pushed Deandre Burnett over to the two, where he seemed more comfortable playing off the ball. Tyree has good handles, vision, and instincts, and he’s not afraid to take a flyer at the rim, despite his size. Our own Zach Berry saw him on the square not too long ago and reports that Tyree has put on a significant amount of mass, which will presumably make his game more dynamic.

Though he finished last season averaging just 7.3 points per game (9.3 in conference play), he wasn’t asked to be a shooter first. His primary task was to direct traffic and distribute, but there were nights when he’d get a wild hair and go off for one (his 24 points against Mississippi State comes to mind).

The shot: Deandre Burnett

Having had to sit out the previous season due to transfer rules, Burnett’s first season back to competitive ball began auspiciously enough, with eight-straight games of double-digit scoring. In that span, he averaged nearly 13 points per outing, eight of which came at the gimme stripe, and let’s not forget the early season tournament game where he dumped 41 on Oral Roberts. On the year, he averaged 16.5 points per contest, which led the team in scoring — and yes, that includes Sebastian Saiz.

Burnett’s handles are serviceable enough, but he can turn the ball over: he had back-to-back nights of five, then six turnovers against Auburn and Georgia, respectively, and he averaged nearly three per game. Hopefully that’s something he’s ironed out in the offseason. Let’s also hope that he’s regained some or all of that lost mobility from the midseason leg injury he suffered last year.

The sprint: Terence Davis

If RCR were forced to pick our favorite player, TD is probably the guy. The reason being, and I’ll quote Gray Hardison from our newsroom here, “because I don't think even he knows what he's doing next.” If you could take a high-speed bowling ball and have it mate with a very excited and confused bull, that would approximate something like Davis’ game. Want a video of him dunking all over CLANGA? Here:

Feels good, man. There was, however, also this:

We can talk about his 15 points per game last year, but that’s not really interesting, and anyway, I don’t think TD would really like that. He emerged as something of the emotional and philosophical center of the Rebel hoopmen last season, because he genuinely wants to be there having fun. He’s great.

The toolbox: Justas Furmanavicius/Markel Crawford

Here’s where we entertain questions about the depth chart. According to Kory Keys, Justas or Marcanvis Hymon are probably ahead of Crawford in line at the moment, but given his experience from Memphis and the tools he brings to Oxford, one may reasonably suppose that he could play himself into the starting job at some point this season.

Markel averaged almost 13 points per game last year at Memphis on 32.4 minutes per game. That was accompanied by 4.4 rebounds and two assists per outing, which sits right about where TD and Burnett finished the year. He’s probably — among the RCR writers, at least — the most interesting guy to be watching when the season begins.

The paint: Dominik Olejniczik

Dom presents the greatest question mark heading into the season. We know that he started eight of the last nine games of his lone season at Drake and averaged 11 points per game. In the same stretch, he hauled in 5.7 rebounds per game, and it’s play like that which probably earned him the starting job. He’s long — listed as 7’0 on Ole Miss’ official roster blurb — and threw in a season high against Loyala last year with 19 points.

So it’s Dom’s job to follow in the footsteps of Sebastian Saiz, who was a terror around the net last year, whose agility and hook improved by strides from 2015 to 2016. Best of luck to Dom.

The vet: Marcanvis Hymon

Hymon is something of a head-scratcher at times. He’s played A TON of minutes for Ole Miss, and yet he still has only averaged just under 20 minutes per game in his three years in Oxford. One reason for those reduced minutes probably relates to Hymon’s 4.4 points per game average in those three years, along with 4.8 rebounds.

In fairness, he was playing behind Sebastian freaking Saiz, and sustaining two apposite bigs in Oxford — and further, in the context of #SECBasketballFever — is a difficult endeavor. He’s had some games here and there, especially that stupendous effort in the second half of the 2015 big dance game against BYU.

However he fits in, Marcanvis will need to demonstrate improvement this season, especially because the Rebs just lost yet another five-spot guy in Karlis Silins.

The pieces are here to score a lot of points, if there remains some doubt on the Rebs’ ability to defend, especially on the inside. But firepower in college basketball can go a long way, so long as it’s consistent and improves over the course of a season. Ole Miss needs to peak in February and the first week of March if they want to have a shot at a big dance berth, and hopefully they can do that. They’re sure as hell fun to watch. Off we go.