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Here’s why Ole Miss basketball is playing games in Canada this week

New head coach Kermit Davis is taking advantage of a rule that lets college teams play in international tournaments every four years.

Ole Miss Athletics/Josh McCoy

It’s early August. It’s sweltering outside. Ole Miss football practice just started back up. You’re trying to figure out which of your friends’ fall weddings you can skip and which football weekends you’ll be spending in Oxford.

So why the hell did you see a headline about Ole Miss basketball beating some team in Canada, of all places?

Yes, the Rebel hoopsters kicked off the era of new head coach Kermit Davis with a 102-61 beatdown of McGill University in Montreal on Sunday afternoon. Its the first of a four-game tour north of the border this week and part of a growing trend of college basketball teams heading out of the country for summer tournaments.

Last summer, Arizona State took on pro teams in Rome and Barcelona; Penn State competed in the Bahamas; Wisconsin played five games in Australia and New Zealand; Purdue trekked to Taiwan to rep the U.S. in the World University Games; and Iowa went on a European tour through Germany, Switzerland and Italy.

(The Rebels’ trip to the Great White North is bland in comparison, but an overseas trip would cost Davis’ new staff valuable days in its first recruiting cycle.)

The NCAA allows teams to make an international trip once every four years. It’s a rule that’s been on the books for years, but something that became more popular in 2010 when eligible incoming freshmen were first allowed to tag along. The trips, which include up to 10 practice days, give teams a head start on developing young players, implementing schemes and building chemistry.

For Davis, who was hired in March, the trip to Canada is an early opportunity to begin reshaping a program that was run by Andy Kennedy for over a decade. He’ll get a full week to evaluate his new roster as he tries to figure out how to operate his methodical, defense-heavy system with players recruited for AK’s run-n-gun scheme.

“What these trips do is they fast-forward you to a lot of different things,” Davis told The Dispatch. “You have to work on zone offense. You never had to put zone offense in in July. You have to worry about press offense because you know what some Canadian teams do and you have to be prepared for it.

”It’s unbelievable the help it gives you in October and November.”

Not only is Davis’ roster unfamiliar to him, its young. The Rebels return leading scorer Terence Davis after he flirted with the NBA, but he’s one of just five regular contributors back from last season. The roster includes six true freshmen, several of which will be called on to contribute significant minutes in 2018. Freshmen Blake Hinson and K.J. Buffen, who are in the mix to start at the four-spot, will see a lot of the court this week, as will JUCO transfer Brian Halums.

“You can say it in practice but until a guy comes out of a game and doesn’t go back in a game for a period of time, he doesn’t really understand,” Davis told Rebel Grove. “I think our team will learn a lot of different things and I’m going to learn a lot about our team.”

The Candian opponents aren’t pushovers, either. McGill, which the Rebs hammered on Sunday, beat four American DI teams last summer. Carleton University, which Ole Miss plays on Wednesday, has won the Canadian national title 13 of the last 16 seasons and beat Alabama by double digits seven months before the Tide made last year’s NCAA Tourney.

“Sometimes you can go on these foreign trips and you can play bad and just win,” Davis told the Clarion-Ledger. “You can just win. Team’s aren’t very organized. These teams in Canada are organized.”

Here’s the schedule for the week

  • Aug. 5: Ole Miss 102, McGill University 61
  • Aug. 6 vs. Concordia University in Montreal, 6 p.m. CT
  • Aug. 8 vs. Carleton University in Ottawa, 6 p.m. CT
  • Aug. 9 vs. University of Ottawa in Ottawa, 6 p.m. CT