Ole Miss hoops heads to Indianapolis on Friday night for a big early season matchup against the Butler Bulldogs. This should give new head coach Kermit Davis a chance to evaluate his squad against a team that’s well coached and experienced.
If the Rebels win or hang tough, there’s reason to believe some positive momentum could start building up this season. If they get blown out, Davis can use it as an opportunity to harp on players who might still be falling into the same traps they did last season under Andy Kennedy. Either way, there’s capital V Value in a game like this, especially come tournament time.
Last season, Butler beat Arkansas in the first round of March Madness before a three point loss to Purdue in the second round. While the Bulldogs lost their leading scorer, Kelan Martin (21 ppg), this team still returns all three starting guards and has some interesting bigs as well.
Head coach LaVall Jordan isn’t Brad Stevens (who coached the Bulldogs from 2007-2013), but he did manage to pull out a win against No. 1 Villanova last season on his way to a 21-14 record in the Big East.
So, what should the Rebels watch out for Friday night, and what can they exploit?
Guard play should be strong for the Bulldogs.
Guards Kamar Baldwin and Paul Jorgensen led the returners with 15.7 and 10.2 ppg last season. They’re averaging 23.5 and 14.5 respectively this season. It’s early, but still, come on.
Aaron Thompson set a freshman record last year with 118 assists, and he has eight through two games this season. This team plays sound, disciplined basketball. These three players in particular work well together and feed off of each other. This will be a tough task for the Rebs’1-3-1 zone, especially if the guards can get going from outside. Butler has struggled a bit from beyond the arc this season, but it’s only a matter of time before they turn it on.
Joey Brunk is the man to pay attention to down low.
Brunk has emerged seemingly out of nowhere after averaging just 5.5 minutes per game last season. He’s playing 22 mpg now with 15 points and five rebounds per game. The 6’11” sophomore only weighs 230 pounds, so he’s not an enormous guy down low, but Bruce Stevens and Dom will have their hands full against him when they’re feeding him the ball.
How can the Rebels beat Butler, then?
The Bulldogs have struggled with turnovers so far this season, turning the ball over 24 times in two games. Baldwin alone has given it away 11 times. If the Rebels can maintain their swarming style of defensive play from game one, they might be able to get the Bulldogs into too many difficult situations.
On the flip side, Butler hasn’t generated many turnovers (7 to be exact) even against definitely lesser competition. I think it’s safe to say that if this Ole Miss team can force three times as many turnovers as it gives up, it has a good chance to win.
Lastly, actual guard play outside of the three starters is virtually nonexistent. Those three main guards average 30 minutes per game even in contests that should have been very easy. If that trio either gets tired or finds themselves in foul trouble early, a close game could get away from the Bulldogs.