They were the last Power 5 team in the country to play, but the Rebels hit the ground running, winning by an average of 22 points over their first four games. On Wednesday, they took the show on the road and proved defense traveled—Middle Tennessee shot just 12-of-35 from inside the arc and 5-of-22 from three-point range. This was Kermit’s first trip back to Murfreesboro and his team played much like his old Middle teams.
Through four games, no team has broken the 60-point threshold, and the Rebels are allowing just 18.8 points in the first half. The defense isn’t good, it’s elite.
... ...— Ole Miss Men’s Basketball (@OleMissMBB) December 15, 2020
Turnovers forced-23.3 pic.twitter.com/RWjj52BM71
It rates 12th in KenPom, adjusted for tempo, at just .879 points per possession. KenPom’s number just date back to 2000 but the best the Rebels have been in defense came all the way back in 2002 with a 48th finish.
The team rated 12th last season defensively was Duke, the year before was 2nd-seeded Gonzaga, and before that teams like Texas, Villanova, and UConn. Suffice to say, we haven't seem a defense like this before in recent memory (or probably forever, the numbers don’t go back very far and our basketball history isn’t very good). The point is, if your defense ranks 12th in the country, you’re headed to the NCAA tournament and you’re probably wearing a home jersey once or maybe even twice.
Comparing AK’s offense-oriented teams with this team is unfair, so let’s take a look back at Kermit’s best team the 2013 version that made the tournament as an at-large ranked 32nd in KenPom.
His defense that year allowed just .925 ppp, good for 28th in the country, and the two teams are more similar than you might think. Both teams are 7th nationally in non-steal turnover rates. They pressure the guards apply force teams into difficult situations, and the length of the forwards clogs up passing lanes.
While MTSU ranked just 22nd in effective field goal rate, the Rebel are 6th, mostly based on the incredible defensive effort by Romeo White, KJ Buffen, and Luis Rodriguez.
While the Rebels may lack a scorer who can create their own shot, the buy-in on the defensive end is unlike anything we’ve seen at Ole Miss. Opposing offenses turn the ball over on over thirty percent of all possessions, ahead of defense-oriented like Texas Tech, Tennessee, and Virginia.
Another difference in those teams? Length. The 2013 Blue Raiders teams (which beat Ole Miss 65-62 in Murfreesboro), had just three rotation players standing over 6-foot-5. The 2020 Rebels only feature two players under 6-foot-5 that get regular minutes.
By the way, that No. 28 ranking at the end of the 2013 regular season? It was five spots better than the Marshall Henderson-led team that won the SEC and beat Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament.
It’s early, but this looks like the best team Kermit has ever had.