Last season, this Ole Miss men’s basketball team made a shocking run to an NCAA tournament berth in Kermit Davis’ first year. This season, many expect the team to be a tournament lock again, but a lot will have to change for the Rebels to repeat.
The narratives during the offseason centered around two things:
- The bigs would inherently be better because they weren’t Dominik Olejniczak and Bruce Stevens.
- The newcomers at guard along with improvement from Luis Rodriguez would more than make up for losing Terence Davis, a player who had lots of potential but picked up lots of fouls and turned the ball over in frustrating ways.
Well, while an argument could be made for point one having come to fruition, the second idea, one that was crucial, has gone unproven so far.
Of course there’s still time for everything to come together, and the Rebels are undefeated so far, but the next four games are critical, and Ole Miss could struggle through them if the team doesn’t see a big change in the contribution of its newcomers.
Let’s talk about the bigs.
Khadim Sy and Sammy Hunter certainly have more athleticism than last year’s counterparts, but the production hasn’t really come. In fact, from a pure volume-based statistical perspective, they’ve been slightly less impactful in every metric focused on size.
There’s a very small sample size, but it’s a weird thing to see, given that Sy and Hunter haven’t even played an SEC schedule yet and are already less productive than the big men Ole Miss fans derided all last season.
One thing worth noting is that the bigs are playing better defense, which has allowed the Rebels to win games without scoring very much. They’re certainly better in that arena than they were a year ago. That impact can’t be overstated, and it’s the reason it’s still safe to say they’re probably helping the team win more than last year’s duo.
The problem is the guards and wings.
Last year, the Rebels only really had one backup guard who played much in DC Davis. Writers and pundits, myself included, spent the offseason discussing how much more depth this team would have. What it lost in Terence Davis it would make up for in Austin Crowley, Franco Miller, an improved Luis Rodriguez, and Bryce Williams.
Yeah. It hasn’t gone well against some of the worst competition this team will see all year.
KJ Buffen is the one making the difference.
KJ Buffen’s improvement from last season to this one, in terms of pure volume, has been astonishing. He’s playing efficient basketball as well, having connected on 71% of his shot attempts this season. Of course, that won’t keep up, but it’s encouraging that this increase in points hasn’t come from some drastic increase in shot attempts.
As Kermit Davis figures out how to re-integrate Blake Hinson, who played 24 minutes per game last season, there are going to be fewer and fewer minutes for the guards and wings mentioned above, because he’s not pulling many minutes away from Buffen.