After all the drama heading into the 2017-18 season, and for all of the teeth gnashing that went on as the Rebels sunk to last place in the SEC, the hiring of Kermit Davis was relatively painless. Ross Bjork got his man just days after Middle Tennessee missed out on an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, allowing Ole Miss to get ahead of the carousel of coaching hires that normally follows the season.
Andy Kennedy leaves Ole Miss as its’ winningest coach in history and he owns approximately 40 percent of the Rebels’ NCAA tournament wins. For all those out there saying Kermit is just a slightly better version of Andy Kennedy, isn’t that perfect? Kennedy, for all he did during his time in Oxford, was often one good win short of getting off the bubble and into the big dance. His best teams needed an automatic bid and a berth in the First Four in Dayton. If Kermit is a small step up with his in-game coaching, it sounds like Ole Miss has a winner.
The 1-3-1 Don.
The good news is Kermit’s defense runs the way Kennedy wanted his to. That is to say, nearly perfect. Middle Tennessee used their athleticism to dominate Conference USA using a 1-3-1 half court pressure defense that Kennedy sometimes employed but never as effectively as the Blue Raiders.
If you watched Middle Tennessee run out to a 48-19 lead at the half in Oxford a couple of seasons back, you saw the type of defense Kermit Davis will bring to the Pavilion. The Rebels turned the ball over 16 times and were never comfortable against Middle. The 1-3-1 zone is most effective because its not used as often in today’s game and thus teams aren’t as accustomed to overcoming it.
Let’s take a look at the numbers. It’s clear something clicked at the end of the 2010-11 season for Kermit, as the Blue Raiders had only finished above 120 in KenPom once before that season. Afterwards, they finished below 120 just once—158 in 2014-15 a year which lost four senior starters from the previous season. It’s safe to assume Ole Miss is going to get late stage Kermit, the one that led the Blue Raiders to three NCAA tournament bids including one where they knocked off 2-seed Michigan State in the round of 64.
A Murfreesboro renaissance.
In the seven seasons since Kermit’s renaissance at Middle Tennessee, his defenses have finished inside the KenPom.com adjusted defensive rating’s top 55 five times. The only season outside the top 100 was the aforementioned season where the Blue Raiders lost four seniors off the previous squad.
Kennedy’s squads over the same time frame finished with an average ranking of 101.4, while Kermit’s averaged 57.4. These numbers are adjusted for opponent strength, so with Conference USA talent, Kermit’s teams consistently outperformed the winningest coach in Ole Miss history on the defensive end.
Rebounding is the name of the game.
Including this season’s three guard lineup, the Blue Raiders have traditionally been a guard-oriented team. Starting without a traditional center was the norm, so Middle relied on guys with long wingspans that could play multiple positions.
The athleticism on hand shows up in their ability to keep other teams off the offensive glass. That has been a weak point under Andy Kennedy, as the Rebels last finished in the top HALF (!) of the country in fewest offensive rebounds allowed back in 2011. Kermit’s Middle teams have only finished outside of the top 100 twice in his entire 16 year career in Murfreesboro. More recently, the Blue Raiders have been in the top 30 each of the last four seasons.
Letting teams get second and third chances on the offensive end is one of the more frustrating and helpless things to watch for fans, so put a huge plus in Kermit’s column for that one.
Oh, look, three-point defense.
Next, his teams defend the perimeter extremely well. Of course, three-point defense is a bit of a myth. A defender cannot force someone to shoot a three, meaning when someone has a bad look at the basket from outside the arc, they’ll simply pass it off or drive and hope for a better shot.
HOWEVER, when teams did decide to shoot against Middle Tennessee, they missed a whole bunch of them (30.8 percent this season, 6th in the country). This either means teams forced these bad looks or Middle only left open bad shooters. Such attention to detail is a huge part of winning basketball games in Oxford.
Slow and steady wins the race in college basketball.
Fans will also have to get used to a more slow, prodding style of play. That may sound unappealing to the casual fan, but nobody complains about Tony Bennett’s style when the Virginia Cavaliers are winning their third ACC title in five seasons.
Kermit’s last seven teams at Middle ranked 247th out of 351 in adjusted tempo while Kennedy’s ranked 77th. This may seem like a slow style of basketball but over a 40 minute game it averages to about 3.5 possessions fewer or less than two per half. I don’t think anyone will complain about seeing two less jacked up threes in a half.
The love of the three is no longer in play.
Which leads to me to the last great difference in Kermit and AK. Kennedy’s teams loved to shoot threes. This season the Rebels were in the top 120 of three point attempts as a percentage of field goal attempts, and they regularly ranked in the top half nationally.
When Stefan Moody or Snoop White are shooting 39 and 40 percent, respectively, from the field that style of offense is encouraged. If the leading three point shooter on the team is below 32 percent like this season, running down the floor and jacking up a three means teams get out in transition for easy buckets.
Kermit’s teams? They’d much rather make the extra pass for a midrange shot or a layup. The Blue Raiders have finished in the bottom 1⁄3 of teams nationally in three point attempts as a percentage of total shots in five of the last seven seasons.
If Ole Miss fans are tired of daggum street ball, Kermit has just the thing for you.