After last Saturday’s 77-58 loss at Middle Tennessee State, the margin for error to earn an NCAA tournament bid in March is gone. Starting 4-4, with a non-conference trip to Texas to face an elite defense team led by all-everything freshman Mo Bamba (and his 7’8” wingspan) is not how Andy Kennedy envisioned his 12th year in Oxford getting started. The SEC is as deep as it has been in years, joining the Big 12 as the only conferences with no sub-100 teams in the KenPom ratings. South Carolina’s trip to Oxford on New Year’s Eve starts an uneasy streak of no easy games or likely wins left on the schedule.
Using KenPom, Ole Miss is projected to win only four more games starting on New Year’s Eve, by a total of seven points. They’ll need to correct some major issues they’ve faced in their four losses to even get on the NIT radar. Unless they shore up a few issues, an NCAA tournament bid may be out of the picture.
Let’s take a look at what exactly Kennedy and the Basketsharks need to do to turn this dadgum thing around.
Three-pointers really need to start falling.
In Ole Miss’s four losses, they are shooting just 29 percent from three-point range. The Rebels already don’t shoot particularly great from three—just 33.2 percent—but 29 percent ranks 325th nationally(!) out of 351 teams, just ahead of Savannah State. In their two overtime losses, Ole Miss shot 16-of-58 from long-range.
Either the Rebels are taking too many contested shots and need to look for the open man, or they’re taking shots and simply not making them. Whatever the problem, if Kennedy either cannot fix this poor shot selection or get more open looks for his better shooters, it will be a long winter in SEC play.
The offensive rebounding has been lackluster.
Chicago State, Darmouth, Alabama A&M. These are the schools Ole Miss is behind in offensive rebounding rate in their four losses. The record of those three schools is 5-24. Of course, they struggle in more ways than just offensive rebounding but that isn’t exactly the company you want to be keeping as the calendar approaches Christmas. The Rebels grab 25.4 percent of the available offense rebounds, but the SEC average is 35.1 percent (national leader is Duke at 43 percent to put things in perspective).
Marcanvis Hymon is the only player in the top 500 (of roughly 2200 total players) nationally in offensive rebounding rate. Ole Miss expected much more from Dominik Olejniczak this year, and it shows. Stevens has struggled adapting to the speed of the game at this level, but that’s to be expected from a junior college transfer. They’re going to need someone to step up to help the Rebels get more second chance points as we get closer to SEC play.
If you cannot shoot well from three-point range, and you can’t rebound your own misses, possessions that result without points are not good. Riveting stuff, I know. If you’re going to win in the SEC with an average defense, you are going to have to be able to rebound and rebound and rebound on the offensive end. Then rebound some more and more and more.
Buckets are too easy for opposing teams.
Ole Miss allows an assist on 67.8 percent of all made baskets in their four losses. Nationally, this would rank 346th out of 351. Teams are driving and finding the open man. Often, they drive and pull the back line of the zone up, then nobody covers the backside, and there is an easy dunk or layup for a wing cutting toward the basket behind the defense.
Unless Ole Miss can learn to play a zone like Syracuse (77.6 percent of all made baskets are assists—worst nationally), teams will continue to carve up the Rebel defense. These problems are two-fold. Kennedy has switched to zone because of deficiencies down low in man-to-man defense, but once the switch is made opponents are finding deficiencies and attacking them.
If Ole Miss can fix just one of these three problems in a league where half of the games could come down to one possession, a winning conference record isn’t out of the realm of possibility. But, if the Rebs still intend on dancing come March, I’m afraid they’ll need to fix all three of them.
With almost one-third of the season already out the door, this team may just not be what everyone thought they could be. As for Kennedy, with only three years left on his contract, it may not be good enough.
How to watch:
Where: The Pavilion, Oxford, Miss.
When: 7 p.m. CT
Online streaming: WatchESPN