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Does Ole Miss basketball’s current roster fit Kermit Davis’ new system?

Ole Miss hoops is staring down a clean slate.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Basketball Tipoff Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Kermit Davis is the new head basketball coach at Ole Miss, and he brings a very different system with him to Oxford than Andy Kennedy’s run-and-shoot philosophy.

If you disliked AK’s “street ball” (which wasn’t really street ball) and a 2-3 zone with a proclivity to give up open threes from the top of the key or anywhere else really, you’ll probably like Kermit’s system.

We aren’t likely to see any Marshall Hendersons or Stefan Moodys coming through under Davis—but maybe that’s a good thing?

Davis’ teams work best when playing disciplined basketball, exploiting the paint, and slashing to the basket. Defensively, it employs a 1-3-1 zone defense among other sets depending on looks. Davis ran this model for years at Middle Tennessee State, had some success with it, and I don’t expect that to change.

So for the sake of a valuable thought experiment, I wanted to think through how the current roster fits what Davis might want to do long-term in Oxford. Is this really a team capable of making his stuff work, or will he be struggling to fit square pegs into round holes?

What the 1-3-1 defense needs

For starters, a super-athletic and high-energy player to be the “chaser.” This is the player at the top of the zone who will be switching between guards and trying to corner the ball. He’s trying to isolate the dribble or force lob passes from side to side to produce turnovers.

At first glance, the very lengthy and athletic Terence Davis could be a fit. He’s usually the best pure athlete on the floor, and he’s a threat in the open court when turnovers are forced. Unfortunately, he’s also known as a guy who doesn’t defend well, and his defensive footwork often leads to poor positioning. That’s not going to work at this spot.

Devontae Shuler could make an interesting top defender, given his on-ball defense has been praised so much by both Kennedy’s and Davis’ coaching staffs. Wasting him as a wing who is only able to display that defensive prowess when the ball is on his side of the court seems misguided.

The sides (or wings) of the 1-3-1 should be focused on collecting steals and rebounds, especially the weak-side defense (meaning the defender to whose side the ball does not come initially). This is likely where Breein Tyree and Blake Hinson fit (depending on how the starting unit settles out). Tyree isn’t a great defender, but he’s very quick and could help swarm the ball pretty well.

The middle of the zone needs a big dude who can jockey for position with players who are entering the zone. His job is to take away entrance passes and keep the post secured. This will be Bruce Stevens or Dom when they’re not both on the court. Neither is ideal, given Dom is pretty slow and Stevens was (and maybe still is) out of shape.

The bottom of the zone (the player closest to his own basket) needs someone who can run non-stop and really pay attention to where the ball might be headed. This player has to cover both sides of the court, and his ability to switch quickly dictates just how susceptible the 1-3-1 is the corner threes (its kryptonite).

Terence Davis probably goes here, but his defensive effort to this point has been, well, not good. Again, the best spot for him is up top, but as long as he’s fouling too much you can’t push him on ball as regularly as that top spot calls for.

What does Kermit Davis ask for on offense?

As our own Nicholas Carr pointed out, Kermit Davis teams don’t attempt many threes (they were bottom third of three pointers as a percentage of total shots in five of six seasons). They’re likely to make that extra pass or find ways to get into the lane.

Guards need to be heady players who aren’t turning the ball over a lot and can hit the wings who slash to the basket or get the ball to forwards who make things happen. Shuler and Tyree shot a lot last year and were inefficient doing so. Maybe an offense that asks them to take shots less frequently will do them good. I worry about how hard it might be to reign players in after they’ve been given such a green light before though.

When functioning at its best, Davis’ offense has big men who can shoot the three efficiently, even if not that regularly. Need to be able to stretch the opposing defense to allow for slashes to the basket and dribble penetration.

Bruce Stevens was supposed to be this guy probably, but his first year saw an inefficient shooter from range (.275) and a run of the mill rebounding average (5.3 rpg). Dom is not this ideal player either, as he has never attempted a three pointer in college. Blake Hinson, the freshman who is expected to start at the four, is an unknown at this time, though in high school he was a capable three-point shooter.

MTSU didn’t really employ true enormous centers, I imagine because of their asks of the center position in the 1-3-1 as well as offensively. You’re not regularly finding 6’11” center who can shoot from outside. When those guys come along, they don’t choose MTSU... or Ole Miss. Once again, Dom is a fish out of water in this system.

So what does it all mean?

Well, it’s not going to be a great year. It should be fun to see what happens with all the newcomers, and recruiting seems to be interesting. It’s just that this roster doesn’t seem to be such a great fit for Davis’ system. Maybe that has changed with coaching, but I kinda doubt it.