So far, Kermit Davis’ short tenure in Oxford has been defined by calibrating expectations. Back-to-back upsets over Auburn and Mississippi State propelled Ole Miss into the tournament conversation and AP Poll, ramping up hope among the Rebel faithful. Now fans are experiencing a bit of a comedown after consecutive double-digit losses have the Rebels sliding in every metric imaginable.
There’s no single point of failure when assigning blame for Ole Miss’ recent struggles. The 21-point blowout in Tuscaloosa featured an anemic offensive performance, as they put up season lows in both total points (53) and points scored per 100 possessions (79.1). Their ratio of 16 turnovers to six assists sums up the game pretty succinctly.
They followed that up with their worst defensive outing of the season against Iowa State last Saturday, allowing 87 points and 121 points per 100 possessions. Whatever brief pressure they did generate with the zone was undone with wide open looks all over the court; the Cyclones knocked down 53 percent of their threes and made every one of their 16 attempts at the rim.
Going through a bit of a slump at the hands of some decent-to-very-good teams normally shouldn’t be cause for concern, but one would have expected Kermit’s squad to put up more of a fight. Instead, each of their last three losses have come by 14 or more points.
It can’t be overstated that no one anticipated the Rebels’ hot start to conference play, but now that the bar’s been raised, it’s not crazy for fans to want more competitive games than what they’ve seen the last two weeks.
The good news is they’ll have plenty of chances to get back on track, similar to their bounce-back win over Arkansas two Saturdays ago. Of the Rebels’ 12 remaining games, seven come against teams ranked lower than their current spot of 40 in the KenPom ratings. Aside from Tennessee and Kentucky, no other teams on the slate rate higher than Iowa State.
Still, Ole Miss started receiving tournament buzz with the assumption that they’d continue bolstering their resume with some high-profile wins, and only taking care of some of their weaker SEC foes over the next six weeks may not be enough for a bid. Given that the Rebels are starving for a meaningful victory, this week’s games against Florida and Mississippi State could define the season.
While Florida’s 11-8 record (3-3 in SEC play) may not turn any heads, it includes close losses to Oklahoma, Michigan State, TCU and Tennessee, all of whom are top-25 in KenPom. Against the same Butler team that beat Ole Miss by seven in Indianapolis, the Gators won in a 34-point drubbing, so they’re plenty dangerous. Boasting the ninth-best defense in opponent-adjusted efficiency, nearly a quarter of their defensive possessions end in a turnover (second most nationally), and they’re top-15 in both steal and block rate. They’ll be eager to wreak havoc on an Ole Miss offense that’s struggled with consistent ball movement recently.
Since the Rebels’ shooting tear in Starkville, Mississippi State has recovered generally well (a 21-point loss to Kentucky notwithstanding), having beaten Florida and Auburn at home to maintain a top-30 spot in KenPom. While playing in Oxford never hurts, the Rebels may not have the same success letting it fly from deep this time around, and given their woes scoring inside against the Bulldogs last time, they could struggle keeping up with one of the most potent offenses in the conference.
Ole Miss has a chance to prove that their 10-win streak from a few weeks ago wasn’t a fluke. But even if a string of upsets isn’t in the cards, finishing respectably and avoiding an outright collapse is critical to this being considered a successful proof-of-concept season.