The Kermit Davis era has officially entered 2020, and it tips off with one of the biggest road trips of the season.
Ole Miss basketball has a chance to show how it has progressed since its Dec. 3 loss to Butler today against No. 24 Wichita State.
The Shockers (12-1) are 3-1 against Power 5 conference opponents this season after wins against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and South Carolina with its only loss coming against West Virginia. The Rebels (9-3) lost to Oklahoma St. in a blowout about six weeks ago, but have since rebounded with a 4-1 record during December.
Head coach Kermit Davis will be taking his team roughly 600 miles on the road for this Top-25 tilt right before SEC play begins next week against Texas A&M. WSU’s Koch Arena is slightly larger than Ole Miss’ Pavilion at around 10,500 capacity, but tickets are readily available on the secondary market so don’t expect a sell out and raucous crowd.
WSU is extremely balanced offensively with nearly five players averaging double digit points per game led by guard Erik Stevenson at 12.9 points per game. Guards Tyson Etienne and Jamarius Burton also average more than 10 points per game and both shoot over 40 percent from three-point range.
The Shockers have shown the valuable ability to have one or two players pick up the scoring slack when Stevenson is having an off night. For example, when Stevenson went 2-of-9 from the field against both Abilene Christian and Virginia Commonwealth, Burton and Etienne both scored more than 10 points to help buoy the offense.
Strong guard play will undoubtedly be the story line in this game with Ole Miss led by senior Breein Tyree and junior Devontae Shuler. Tyree leads the team with 17 points per game while Shuler chips in 10 and most importantly four assists per game.
The last month or so has also led to the re-emergence of Blake Hinson and KJ Buffen while introducing Khadim Sy as a legit scoring option down low. Hinson averaged nearly 14 points per game in the last four contests, Buffen scored 20 in the Rebels’ last game, and Sy dropped 20 against Southeastern Louisiana in Jackson a couple weeks ago.
Depth in my opinion is probably the biggest disparity between these two teams right now.
Outside the five starting Rebels, there has yet to be a clear sixth man to step up off the bench for Ole Miss from the group of freshmen Austin Crowley and Sammy Hunter or juco transfer Bryce Williams. They each have had their moments, but the consistency is not quite there just yet to be a reliable spark off the bench and are used more for giving rest to the starting five. This is all well and good against the SELA’s of the world, but this strategy could show larger gaps as the Rebels enter tougher competition like the Shockers.
WSU coach Gregg Marshall is in his 13th season though he has been courted by several Power 5 teams during his successful tenure. Marshall has won more than 300 games in his time with the Shockers and seems to have them poised to compete for the American Athletic Conference title with Memphis as the odds on favorite right now.
The Shockers seem like a solid team, but they do struggle from the free throw line. As a team, WSU is shooting 69.2 percent from the charity stripe, good enough for 188th nationally. This is not unlike Ole Miss who shoot a very nice 69 percent from the free throw line, ranking 197th.
The latest NET rankings put WSU at No. 11 nationally, the highest ranked team Ole Miss has played except for No. 4 Butler. The Rebels currently come in at No. 56, leaving some work to do to make the NCAA Tournament come March.
It all starts today in Wichita and continues in SEC play. If the Rebels can notch wins in January, the odds of postseason play swing in their favor significantly very quickly.
Line: Wichita State -8
How to watch
Where: Charles Koch Arena, Wichita, Kan.
When: 3:00pm CST
Online streaming: WatchESPN