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The LSU loss was a setback, but Ole Miss’ young talent should still have you pumped

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Blake Hinson and Devontae Shuler aren’t just the future. They’ve made big-time contributions to this team’s current success.

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Mississippi Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Before we begin, let’s first offer here a short apologia for jinxing Ole Miss hoops this week after our glowing coverage of the Rebs’ hot hot start to the season that saw the Basketsharks shoot up to No. 18 in the AP Top 25 poll. As you might imagine, we got quite excited over the hoopmen’s first top-25 rank since 2013, and reacted with reckless abandon.

Tuesday’s home loss to LSU is thus our fault, and we’ve since tempered our gittiness back to normal Ole Miss basketball levels, though we’re still convinced that this year’s outfit remains a very good basketball team.

The Rebs toppled two top-15 clubs inside seven days last week, and it was probably the best basketball Oxford has produced in nearly six years.

That fact right there is indeed something to feel good about, and such stark success in such quick succession can drive one to levels of optimism rarely felt. We wrote in that emotional state, and we wrote well. Then, the Rebs failed in The Pavilion to a very beatable LSU team and perhaps you feel like the hype has come crashing suddenly down. Be not afraid, reader, because Kermit Davis’ shop remains dangerous as all hell as this young basketball season. That’s thanks in large part to its young playmakers.

Blake Hinson and Devontae Shuler are your new favorite players.

The former a true frosh, the latter a true soph, these two represent the future of Ole Miss basketball and they are delivering large on their returns well ahead of schedule.

Hinson, for his part, has found an immediate starting spot in the top five platoon. He dropped a career high 26 points on Mississippi State in last week’s road win in Starkville, and became an Oxford culture hero in the process.

Hinson’s immediate scoring ability — especially from outside — has seen the true freshman throwing in nearly 10 points per night. He’s also an important presence on the rebounding front, pulling down three per outing. His outsized performance in Starkville last Saturday certainly lifted Ole Miss past the in-state rival to seal the first time in program history that the Rebs had upset two top 25 teams in a row.

As for Shuler, an under-recruited prospect out of Irmo, S.C. (shoutout to former Rebel Murphy Holloway), he’s averaging just north of 10 points per game at the moment, and it’s difficult to understate his contribution on the defensive end. He’s tallied seven, six, and six steals in separate games this year, that last against CLANGA on the road. He also distributes well, dropping multiple five-or-more-assist games this season.

So how do these youngsters fit in?

Hinson has stepped up to offer a third hand at the guard position, and his size makes him formidable on both sides of the court. He’s streaky, sure, but so was Terence Davis in his early career. If Blake’s going to go off, he’s going to go off, and his outside shooting ability makes him particularly dangerous. His 38 percent hit mark from beyond the arc in SEC play is second on the team and his season-long adjusted offensive efficiency rating is higher than Davis’ right now.

Shuler’s new role in the starting five is more interesting. On the floor for just 47 percent of last year’s total minutes, his usage has jumped to 82 percent as a sophomore. As a freshman last year, he didn’t command as much control on the ball as he currently does. Previously, Breein Tyree ran the point as the man in charge, and he fended for himself fine as he did.

Shuler, it would seem, has moved to the one spot, and the Rebs’ offensive attack has improved noticeably in the wake of that change. The offenses’ adjusted efficiency has climbed to 28th nationally (up from 68th last season), while its assist-to-field goal rate has jumped from 85th nationally to 53rd. Having the ball in his hands has allowed Devontae the leeway to see the whole court and distribute as needed—something he does quite well—and it’s freed up Tyree to move about the premises for open looks on the perimeter.

Tyree is one of the fastest players in NCAA basketball, and Kermit’s decision to move him off the ball into essentially a receiver role allows him to pull away from defenders for either free looks at the arc or open driving lanes to the rack, which he apparently loves.

With the addition of Hinson’s length and skill set around the perimeter, and with Shuler developing on schedule in Year 2 and with Tyree let loose to skate around the court AND with Kermit Davis’ system seemingly taking hold faster than anyone expected, this Ole Miss hoops outfit is far ahead of schedule in the Tea Lizard’s first year at the helm.

Yes, Ole Miss finally dropped one to LSU in Oxford, but that sort of thing happens.

There’s no reason to despair, but maybe some of the luster gained last week against Auburn and Mississippi State has worn off after the loss to #GEAUX. That’s fine, and it’s no reason for panic. Kermit’s immediately demonstrated his ability to focus and motivate this ragtag club into a successful basketball shop.

The defense is good. The offense is playing cohesive ball. The Rebels’ roster still contains size and skill mismatches up and down the line as SEC play continues, but to this point Davis has found ways to shore up those gaps. That’s thanks in large part to Hinson and Shuler.