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Ole Miss basketball 2019: Non-conference schedule breakdown

Memphis, Syracuse highlight non-conference schedule for the Basketsharks.

Oklahoma v Mississippi Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Ole Miss will host a basketball exhibition against Mississippi College on November 4th. That’s less than a month away!

So what better time to talk about the non-conference schedule the Rebels will face?

Depending on schedule strengths, entire college basketball seasons are sometimes decided before conference play even begins. Losing to a couple of clunkers or beating major powers goes a long way, even months after conference play has started. Think about the hot start Ole Miss got off to last season with a 10-2 non-conference record followed by winning its first three conference games — the Rebels were regularly selected as tournament worthy from then on despite some dips in performance.

That’s not to say that conference play isn’t capable of derailing or sparking tournament hopes, but the importance of what happens before January can’t be overstated. Additionally, some forecasters already have put the Rebels in the NCAA Tournament in preseason projections, further bolstering the positive trend around the program.

The Rebels this year have a schedule without too many opportunities for great RPI boosts right now, and there are far too many major land mines (teams to which a loss could totally tank the aspirations of the season). There’s more nuance to it than that, but this is not a schedule that’s going to make conference play a formality, even if the Rebels emerged undefeated through early January.

There’s only one team that went dancing last year, and the Rebels may not end up facing them.

Yes, Syracuse is the only program in this early season schedule that made the NCAA tournament, and the Orange lost in the first round. There are a few teams who made some noise in the NIT (Norfolk State beat Bama, Memphis lost in the second round, and Wichita State made the semifinals), but that’s nothing to write home about really.

Syracuse is participating in the NIT tip-off with the Rebels, but they will only see each other if the results of the first game line up right.

Memphis will be a lot better though.

The Tigers signed the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, along with the No. 1 player in the country, James Wiseman, which seems pretty good. The Tigers may take a month or two to really come together, given that 10 of the team’s 14 players are freshmen, but at some point they’re projected to be very good. The Rebels have a chance in this one, but they’re going to have to have somewhat of an answer for the 7’1 Wiseman. We don’t really know a ton about the play of Khadim Sy or Sammy Hunter down low yet, but the outcome of this game will become clearer over the first few contests of the season.

Past those two, there’s a big drop off.

The Rebels face six teams with losing records from mid-major or minor conferences. They face another group of teams from traditionally poor conferences who were close to .500 on the year. There just aren’t many teams on the schedule that will be all that interesting, but that’s alright, given that the team is going to be learning a lot about itself.

A trip to Wichita State in the dead of winter will be a challenge most likely as the Shockers posted 22 wins last season including an 11-4 record at home. It will be the final non-conference game of the season though, so it will be a good measuring stick for a team returning a talented corps back court.

The Rebels will host a familiar face against Cal-State Bakersfield as former Ole Miss head coach Rod Barnes will get a chance to check out the Pavilion (most likely, he’ll either laugh himself into a good cry or scream obscenities and throw rocks at the old Tad Pad). The program Kermit Davis left behind will also be in Oxford this season, which is a story worth paying attention to even if the program is a shell of itself.

That’s pretty much it. Sure, Penn State’s likely to be alright, but they struggled to get wins in the 2019 season. Butler, who beat the Rebels a year ago, are on the schedule again and should be a bit of a test, but the Bulldogs went 16-17 a year ago.

For a team that should be really exciting to watch, the early season schedule consists of a trip to Brooklyn and the FedEx Forum, but then there’s a lot to be desired in terms of exciting and challenging games in 2019.