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It’s about to get real for Ole Miss basketball

Kermit Davis’ Rebels have been impressive so far, but the real test begins with Wednesday night’s matchup against No. 12 Auburn.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Since long before Kermit Davis arrived in Oxford, Ole Miss basketball fan expectations have always been modest, which makes it a pleasant surprise when things do actually mesh. This season’s 11-2 start captures that feeling pretty well.

After beating Vanderbilt by 10 as a road underdog on Saturday, Ole Miss ranks 41st nationally in the KenPom ratings, having finished 108th in 2018. That’s the seventh best rating in the SEC, a stark difference from some’s preseason projection of a last-place conference finish for the Rebels.

The early success comes with a caveat, though. So far, Ole Miss has played just four teams inside the top 100, the highest being Cincinnati at 30th (Ole Miss lost by 14). Looking ahead at the remaining schedule, there are currently five SEC teams inside the top 25 and 10 in the top 70. The Rebels’ next three opponents, Auburn, Mississippi State, and LSU are all rated higher than them (11th, 19th, and 40th, respectively). On both ends of the floor, depth is likely going to pop up as more of an issue than it has so far.

It feels safe to say they could be in for a rude awakening, especially early on in conference play. Still, there’s plenty of reason to think they could hold their own in more than a few SEC skirmishes.

The offense has been on a tear, but how sustainable is it?

Through 13 games, Ole Miss is 23rd in opponent-adjusted offensive efficiency, shooting better from the floor than anyone else in the SEC with an adjusted field goal percentage of 57 percent (14th nationally). The ball movement early into the Davis era has been solid, as 58 percent of the Rebs’ buckets have been assisted, second in the conference only to Tennessee. It doesn’t hurt that they’re knocking down 38 percent of their threes.

So what’s there to worry about?

As efficient as they are shooting near the rim (69 percent), the Rebels don’t get there enough, settling for worse shots from mid-range. So far, they haven’t sacrificed as much as they could be going this route, as they’ve converted two-point jumpers at a clip of 45 percent (20th nationally). Part of that can be attributed to guards either getting separation or creating clean looks for others, but it’ll be hard to win a lot of games in-conference without attacking the rim more.

Against Cincinnati back in November, the Rebels scored just 57 points, shooting 37 percent from the floor. Auburn’s defense isn’t far behind Cincy’s in KenPom, but they do allow a lot of three-point attempts — 45 percent of opponents’ shots have come from behind the arc. We’ll have a better sense of whether Ole Miss can continue the shooting clinic through conference play after Wednesday.

It’s barely January, and this defense is already showing cracks.

As engaged as the defense has appeared under Davis, especially on the perimeter, they still rank just 88th in defensive efficiency, the third-worst mark in the conference. They’re 277th in Division I basketball in strength of opposing offenses faced, so there may be an adjustment period in facing six different top-30 offenses in the SEC.

Thanks in part to a stingy zone that makes creating inside looks difficult, Ole Miss doesn’t allow a ton of attempts in the paint (315th nationally). But when teams have been able to feed the ball down low, there hasn’t been much stopping them from scoring. Ole Miss has allowed more than 65 percent of shots at the rim to go in (40th).

Given this team’s roster makeup, allowing offensive rebounds surprisingly hasn’t been a glaring issue, but it would shock no one if it became one against the SEC’s best. Five different SEC teams are in the top 30 nationally in terms of offensive rebounding rate, including Auburn at third (40.1 percent).

It’s no secret that the schedule was going to get tougher, but just how much that affects Ole Miss’ win total remains to be seen. Regardless, this was supposed to be a transition, throw-away year, so the fact that there’s any kind of in-depth conversation about Ole Miss basketball is a treat.