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Ole Miss basketball preview 2019: Led by veterans, Rebels eye tournament again

Tyree, Shuler, Hinson, Buffen, let’s ride

Oklahoma v Mississippi Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The long off season is finally over, open practices are here, and the second year of our tea sippin’ head coach is almost ready to be served to the rest of the country.

Kermit Davis surprised everyone in year one, and he’s wanting the second verse to be just like the first though expectations are clearly higher. Last season, our staff predicted anywhere between 14 and 18 wins and scraping into the National Invitational Tournament as a four or five seed - the bar has been raised after a 20-13 season and an NCAA tournament bid last year.

So what did the coaching staff do for an encore? They completely transformed the roster but kept a core of veteran players to build on last year’s success.

And those veterans will most likely be leaned on heavily for a chance to go to back to back NCAA tournaments. Let’s take a look at who is back from last year’s team who actually logged minutes. There are two players, Franco Miller Jr. and Carlos Curry, who were redshirted and we’ll cover later on.

Back in the saddle again.

Breein Tyree

He’s the undisputed leader of this team and one of the best returning players in the conference. The challenge this season is that Terence Davis isn’t on the floor, so Tyree will get more defensive attention than ever. We’ve seen explosiveness from Tyree in driving the ball to the basket, and there are going to be games where he has to take over and drop 20 or more to spur the team along. He did it last year, and the Rebels will need an encore.

Devontae Shuler

Last season, Shuler tapped into some of his potential and really turned some heads, leading to him testing the NBA draft waters. He averaged more than 10 points per game and led the team in steals with 56, which was eighth in the conference. He’ll be a significant contributor this season with TD’s departure and be the 1-2 back court punch with Tyree for nearly every game. Shuler can break away on turnovers and get the electrifying dunk to get the crowd into it, and fans will be anxious to see what he can do to take the next step as a player this season.

Blake Hinson

Hinson is battling some health issues here in the last couple months, so we’re unsure how he’ll proceed this season (take all this with a massive grain of salt). Early on last season, Hinson seemed like he was going to be the best freshman on the Ole Miss roster, but he lost his way later on in the year. He was the absolute shining star against Mississippi State in the first of those two games last season, scoring 26 points and dropping three’s from all over the court. I think over 31 starts, he just wore down more than anything else.

The jump from high school to college is a battle of tougher competition, more training, and mentally the challenge of focusing on fewer mistakes. I’m hoping Hinson (6’7, 229-pounds) will be able to get out to shoot from deep more often this season with the arrival of Khadim Sy and Sammy Hunter. He shot nearly 35 percent from three point range, and he’ll improve on that number this season potentially with an off season of conditioning.

KJ Buffen

He’s our junkyard dog. It ain’t pretty, but he consistently gets the job done. Buffen posted at least six rebounds in nine games last season COMING OFF THE BENCH. He’s clearly not a great outside shooter (4-of-16 last season), and teams regularly gave him open looks that he would not take or drive to the rim. Coach Davis has apparently been in Buffen’s ear about shooting more in the off season to continue developing a mid-range to outside shot.

It’s very likely Buffen will be looked to as a starter this year more often though he may still be a 20-25 minute per game guy. Buffen finished third in blocks on the team last season, and the top two players are no longer with the team (Davis and Dominik Olejniczak). He should be a solid defensive option for the team though standing at 6’7 and 220-pounds he is not a traditional big bodied forward.

Luis Rodriguez

The scrappy LuRod could make a big jump in 19-20 as he showed flashes at times as a great defender. If he shows more offensive ability, he could end up a go to sixth man for this squad. The 6’6 guard/forward logged only 6.1 minutes per game, but coach Davis has said previously if the season started today, Rodriguez would be a starter because of his on-ball defense.

LuRod and Buffen to me are the type of players defensively Coach Davis is looking for to create for his teams. When you have two guys who can regularly make stops and generate additional possessions for your team, you couple that with a veteran back court and suddenly points come in bunches.

It’s always a massive positive to have the returning leading scorer in your conference back for his senior year. And it’s also huge he seems to be getting overlooked and underrated by a lot of the media, because if there’s one thing we’ve seen in Tyree, he has very few damns to give and loves the adversity.

This group will most likely define the season though there are several talented newcomers expected to make a splash this year. We’ll be diving into those fresh faces with our next installment of our basketball season preview.