Let’s face it fellow Rebel fans, the last few months have been rough. With the NCAA Committee of Infractions punishments looming and the football team mired in the proverbial wilderness, the fanbase is in need of a collective pick me up. Perhaps that is why I found myself seated in the Pavilion last Sunday, watching the Ole Miss basketball team take on North Alabama in a preseason scrimmage. I, like the rest of the Rebel faithful, needed a win. The Rebels certainly delivered: a 94-53 drubbing of North Alabama that flashed all sorts of potential.
Ordinarily, preseason game recaps are replete with caveats and cautions about how little can be gleaned from a meaningless contest with a Division II team. But you know that already. That’s why this is a strictly hype-only recap and preview. All of the excitement of a 50-point win, with none of the precaution about how it’s only the preseason. So sit back, relax, and pour yourself a tall glass of Kool-Aid.
Without further ado, here are some takeaways from last Saturday’s preseason basketball scrimmage.
Devontae Shuler is the real deal.
The freshman shooting guard arrived on campus this year with a lot of hype, and deservedly so. After all, he’s one of the most decorated Ole Miss basketball recruits in Ole Miss history. A four-star, top-100 prospect, Shuler is described by his former high school coach Steve Smith as, “A lockdown on-the-ball defender. As good as I’ve ever had, and I’ve had some good ones.” This is coming from a guy that has coached the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rondo, Michael Beasley, and Jerry Stackhouse, among others.
So what did Shuler do in Sunday’s scrimmage in the face of all that hype? Well, all he did was lead the team in scoring with 18 points on 7-12 shooting. He also chipped in 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals in just 23 minutes of action.
There had been rumors floating around prior to the game that Shuler’s offense might be behind his defense, but that certainly did not appear to be the case on Sunday. The Rebel offense was setting off-ball screens for Shuler like he was Marshall Henderson, and the freshman showed no hesitation in snapping off 4 triples. However his best play came on defense. Early in the second half, Shuler anticipated an ill-advised crossover move from a North Alabama player, and, with one seemingly effortless flick, tapped the ball away for a breakaway on the other end. Simply put, Sunday’s scrimmage was a Devontae Shuler showcase.
The defense was frenetic but effective.
Andy Kennedy teams have almost always been able to generate points, but have often been plagued by disorganized and inconsistent defense. Sunday’s defense was not particularly organized nor was it consistent, but superior athleticism made it extremely effective. The Rebels wreaked havoc on North Alabama’s offense to the tune of 21 turnovers, 10 steals, and 9 blocks.
Of course, we all know that chaos is a ladder, and on Sunday the Rebels climbed that ladder and swatted the shit out of every North Alabama player that dared enter the paint. The box score lists nine blocks and that honestly seems low to me. Granted, the fact that several of the North Alabama players looked suspiciously like me (i.e. a 5’8 white guy) probably helped. Nevertheless, it appears as though the Rebels have a bevy of shot-blockers at their disposal.
Newcomers Dominik Olejniczak and Bruce Stevens combined for five rejections, and Breein Tyree had an absolutely nasty Lebron-esque chasedown block. Ole Miss will certainly miss seven-footer Karlis Silins (out indefinitely due to a knee injury,) but there are still several guys who can protect the paint.
Certainly Ole Miss won’t be able to limit most teams to 53 points, but if they can manufacture turnovers and get out in transition like they did Sunday, this team will be awfully tough to beat.
This is as talented a team as Andy Kennedy has had at Ole Miss
Looking over the roster, it’s hard not to get excited about this Ole Miss hoops squad. There is talent at every position and more depth at guard than perhaps any other Ole Miss team in the Andy Kennedy era. To give you an idea of just how deep they are at the position, Deandre Burnett, a preseason All-SEC selection, actually came off the bench versus North Alabama. So did the game’s MVP, Devontae Shuler.
At the 3, the Rebels have Terence Davis, who I personally believe will lead the Rebels in scoring this year, and whose game Jim Lohmar delightfully described as a mating between a high-speed bowling ball and a very excited and confused bull. Davis looked to be the TD that we all know and love on Sunday: 80 percent energy and athleticism and 20 percent head-scratching turnovers and breakdowns. I’ll take that all season long.
Finally, the frontcourt is led by transfers Bruce Stevens and Dominik Olejniczak, who will combine with veterans Justas Furmanavicius and Marcanvis Hymon to create an experienced squad down low. Hymon, in particular, looked improved in the scrimmage. He’s a career 5/5/5 guy (5 points, 5 rebounds, 5 fouls), but he looked more aggressive on Saturday, grabbing 10 boards to go along with 8 points.
In short, nobody knows how good this year’s edition of Rebel roundballers will be, but the sky is the limit. I’m willing to bet they’ll finish higher than 10th in the SEC, that’s for damn sure. We’ll find out soon enough.
In the meantime, here is a video recap of Sunday’s matchup. Enjoy!