Ole Miss is officially an NCAA Tournament participant for the first time since 2015. After finishing with 20 wins in Kermit Davis’ first season, the Rebels were handed an eight seed in the South bracket.
After weeks of bracketology and prognostications, we can finally turn our attention to the Rebels’ path through the bracket, which begins with a first-round matchup against nine-seed Oklahoma and, should Ole Miss live to tell the tale, runs through No. 1 seed Virginia in the second round.
The Rebels tip against Oklahoma Friday at 11:40 a.m. CT in Columbia, S.C., which means you should plan to have a lunch date with crippling anxiety. If Ole Miss wins, their next game would be on Sunday, just in case you were looking for ways to ruin any stress-free plans for the weekend.
How does Ole Miss match up with its first and potential second-round opponents? What are the odds of advancing? Let’s take a look.
First round: No. 9 Oklahoma
The Sooners, fresh off a seventh place finish in the Big 12 regular season and a gross first-round loss to West Virginia in their conference tournament, check in at 38th in KenPom’s efficiency ratings and 37th in the NCAA’s NET rankings (Ole Miss is 44th and 36th, respectively).
Oklahoma’s most notable wins this year include Florida (10-seed), Wofford (7), and Kansas (4). Like Ole Miss, they have no losses that set message board servers on fire, but they do claim a pair of losses to West Virginia, which finished last in the Big 12 with a record of 14-20 and were ranked 95th in KenPom.
Oklahoma also dropped a couple of games (including a 30-point loss at home) to Baylor, a team Ole Miss beat, 78-70, back in November. The Sooners are three spots above Baylor in KenPom.
Though Baylor and Oklahoma have similar efficiency ratings, they do not play the same style of basketball. The Sooners are more of a defensive-oriented team, ranking 23rd in KenPom’s defensive efficiency category and 73rd in offensive efficiency. That’s the reverse of Ole Miss, which ranks 33rd in offensive efficiency and 68th in defensive efficiency.
Statistically, the best SEC comparison to Oklahoma is Florida, which finished 60th in offensive efficiency and 14th on the defensive side of that stat. The Rebels lost an agonizing overtime game to the Gators at the end of January.
One area that should be a relief to Ole Miss fans is that Oklahoma ranks 175th in the NCAA in rebound margin. Ole Miss is 107th, so while it’s not a big advantage for the Rebels, it’s possible we won’t spend the whole game screaming REBOUND at players who can’t hear us on our televisions.
Because Oklahoma isn’t a destroyer of worlds on the glass and doesn’t have overwhelming offensive firepower, I think it’s a pretty good matchup for Ole Miss. Teams with size (AHEM, Alabama) or who are efficient on offense give Ole Miss fits, as those teams can cause the Rebels to go through long periods without being able to get defensive stops, which is not a great way to win games.
Ole Miss has been successful and competitive against teams in the same KenPom neighborhood, so there’s no reason to think we won’t see something similar on Friday (KISS OF DEATH). Whether they do enough to win remains to be seen, but I can assure you what’s left of your Friday afternoon after the game will see zero productivity.
Potential second round: No. 1 Virginia
In short, these guys are monsters. They’re the top-ranked team in KenPom (second in offensive efficiency and fifth in defensive efficiency) and of their three losses, two were to Duke (by a total of 12 points), who has some dude named Zion Williamson on its team.
Based on gamblin’ metrics and such, if Ole Miss got to the second round and Virginia did not Virginia their first-round game*, the Rebels would be around a 12 to 14-point underdog, which puts a number on the size of the hill to climb.
*If you missed that news, Virginia was the first one-seed to lose to a 16-seed in the history of the NCAA Tournament, which seemed like a stat that would absolutely feature Ole Miss one day.
HOWEVER, because bouts of irrational optimism are a symptom of being an Ole Miss fan, Virginia does play at the slowest pace in the country (353rd in KenPom). That means fewer possessions for everyone, but it also means that if the Cavaliers have an off-night shooting and Ole Miss makes the most of its limited possessions, we have a recipe for what happened to Virginia in last year’s NCAA Tournament.
Of course, last year’s Virginia team was ranked 30th in offensive efficiency, so maybe an off-night won’t even matter. Imagine people throwing rocks at advancing tanks.
I do think the athleticism of Ole Miss’ guards would bother Virginia, but the degree of bothering wouldn’t be enough to overcome Virginia’s advantages everywhere else. It’s possible Ole Miss could combine that athleticism with an effort to speed up the game and make Virginia uncomfortable with the pace of play, but the Rebels are 129th in adjusted tempo, which means that isn’t exactly in their comfort zone either.
Potential second round, because it’s possible!: No. 16 Gardner-Webb
I do not (DO NOT) want to play Gardner-Webb. The Sports Gods already have them listed next to LaSalle in the “Lower Seeds that Prevented Ole Miss from Going to the Sweet 16 after Winning a First-Round Game” category.