If you, while not wearing a tinfoil hat, told me four months ago that Kermit Davis would have Ole Miss in the NCAA Tournament in his first year as head coach, I would’ve slightly lowered my head, peered over the top of my imaginary bifocals and given you a peak confused dad “Do What Now?”
The Rebels have shattered expectations in Year 1. But this season isn’t just successful relative to the set of lowly expectations it opened with. Davis has coached Ole Miss to one of its best statistical campaigns in over a decade.
The advanced stats website KenPom.com ranks college basketball teams using a metric called adjusted efficiency margin, which “represents the number of points the team would be expected to outscore the average D-I team over 100 possessions.” This season’s Ole Miss team ranks higher in that metric than all but one of the teams coached by Andy Kennedy during his 12 years in Oxford.
Ole Miss efficiency rank since 2006
|Strength of schedule
|Strength of schedule
Only AK’s 2012-13 team ranked higher than 43rd in the country. That Marshall Hendrson-led won the SEC Tournament and upset Wisconsin in the first round of the NCAA Tourney.
Outside of that year, only three of AK’s teams were close to what happened this season: the 2014-15, 2009-2010, and 2007-08 teams achieved rankings of 46th, 48th, and 50th, respectively. While AK’s first team, 2006-2007, hit 60th, the other seven teams under his direction finished with an overall efficiency of 74th or lower.
The point of this exercise is not to besmirch AK, who turned a program that won 17 conference games in four years into one that had a shot at the NCAA Tournament almost every year. What I’m telling you, friends, is that this season we’ve some of the highest level of play from an Ole Miss team in over a decade. This is different. This is fun.
Davis offensive scheme, which is notably more conservative and selective than AK’s, is as statistically efficient as we’ve seen over the past 13 years. That’s lead to success on the other side of the floor, where, despite depth limitations, the Rebels have managed to hang in the top third nationally in defensive efficiency. That stat alone earned Davis the SEC Coach of the Year (seriously, LOOK AT THE ROSTER). And let’s not forget, this is a fun group to watch, and they play with effort and passion.
Making all of this that much more impressive is the fact that Davis is having this success in a historically good SEC. RCR’s Will Gates touched on this earlier this week.
This year features six different SEC teams in the top 30 in KenPom rankings, and as many as seven could make the dance. For an idea of just how much tougher the conference has gotten, zero SEC teams were in the top 30 a decade ago.
Since expanding to 14 schools six seasons ago, the SEC has produced just four teams to make the tournament with 20 or fewer wins, two of them from a year ago. Depending on how this weekend goes, Ole Miss may be the fifth. A finish just over .500 in conference play sounds like a standard NIT-qualifying Andy Kennedy-esque outing, but with the widely acknowledged steeper level of SEC competition in recent years, last Saturday’s win over Missouri essentially clinched a tournament bid for Davis’ Rebels.
What happens next, other than Ole Miss playing Alabama on Thursday night in the SEC Tournament, I don’t know. If I did, I would wager large sums of money, win those bets, and you would never hear from me again.
For now, let’s enjoy the rest of this rare ride and sip some daggum tea.
BONUS STATS BECAUSE I AM PETTY
Former Ole Miss AD Pete Boone should’ve served time in prison for letting Rod Barnes coach his last two years. When you’ve got a coach who was 9-23 in the SEC after his last NCAA Tournament appearance, apparently you have to let him get to 17-47 before firing him.
Rod Barnes Stealing Money
PRISON, I SAY.