The Ole Miss men’s basketball team has gotten off to a 2-1 start, with its lone loss coming at the hands of the Butler Bulldogs on the road in a raucous environment. It’s tough to know how good that Butler team is right now, since they just lost to Dayton (a good but not great team) at home, but they’re a consistent program and a nice measuring stick in the first month either way.
This basketball season is mostly an unknown after the SEC coaches picked the Rebels to finish dead last in the conference. What impact can a different coaching style have on the team? Are the players on campus ready to step up to make the season interesting, or will they just revert back to the lackadaisical play (especially on defense) we saw all through last season?
It’s tough to know how good the team will be down the stretch, but things have gotten at least a little bit clearer through the first three games.
Here’s what we know:
Terence Davis is a tremendous scorer.
Davis is averaging over 20 points per game as a senior. So far in a very small sample size, he’s shooting 52 percent overall and 58 percent from three. While that’s obviously not a pace he can keep up, anything close to it would be a remarkable change over last season’s 40 percent overall and 31 percent from three.
Obviously the level of competition matters, but Davis scored 30 against a Butler team that at the very least is likely to play in the NIT after making the big dance last year. He’s slashing to the basket and not settling for the low percentage shots we saw him take all last year. He (along with the rest of the team) isn’t just putting up contested three pointers with plenty of time left on the shot clock. For TD to get drafted (which he tried to do last season), he has to improve the mental side of his game, and good shot selection should help with that.
Devontae Shuler is really putting in work.
The 6’2 sophomore point guard leads the team in rebounds, assists, and steals (5.3, 3.7, 2.7). Despite not having been recruited to play point guard, it’s working out for him early. Shuler isn’t an incredible distributor or anything, but he only has four turnovers in three games. Considering he has played 33 minutes a game, that’s a pretty big positive.
But he’s even more impressive defensively. Shuler’s on-ball defense is excellent, and he is high energy even when he’s not marking the guy with the ball. He’s precisely the type of defender Kermit Davis can utilize in both his 1-3-1 zone and more traditional man or zone looks. Having someone who can regularly defend good guards and keep them in check is a huge asset.
The big men situation isn’t ideal.
Senior Bruce Stevens and junior Dominik Olejniczak just aren’t athletic enough and don’t play defense well enough to fit a scheme that asks them to think a lot about rotations and defend away from the basket. Stevens is alright offensively, but Dom can’t handle passes and doesn’t go up with much authority when he can. Neither rebounds effectively, especially considering their size.
Freshmen Blake Hinson and K.J. Buffen (who is a small forward playing as a center) are quite athletic and have good spurts, but they’re freshmen. Both need to gain some muscle, and they’ll likely struggle tactically when they see better bigs.
This team isn’t a tournament team, in case there are people who still wonder.
There are really only three guards who have done anything (though DC Davis has been a good story of the early season). The bigs, as I mentioned, aren’t great. Even against bad teams, Ole Miss is only really playing 8 guys. An injury anywhere totally devastates the team. Even without injuries, there’s not enough depth, and the starters aren’t good enough.
This season is still going to be a lot of fun to watch, particularly with several promising young players. Just keep your expectations in check. Remember, there are reasons the team was picked last in the conference for 2018-2019.