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Behind the Box Score: Maybe we shouldn’t believe the hype just yet

[deep breath]

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Mississippi Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps The Cup and specifically me, myself, and I got a bit too ambitious.

Ole Miss had beaten up on four overmatched small conference opponents in Oxford save a the trip back to Kermit’s former stomping grounds in Murfreesboro. The Rebel defense had been dominant and seemed to be something that would keep up forever.

A slugfest loss against Dayton (happening during the middle of a Rebel football game nearly as high scoring in Baton Rouge) followed by a blowout loss at Alabama and what seemed like a bottoming out loss at home against Wichita, and suddenly things seem a lot different.

The defense struggled in this stretch, allowing 1.04 and 1.14 points per possession in the final two losses. The offense scored just .91 PPP against Dayton, but it was the defense that collapsed against Alabama and Wichita State. As the Dayton and Alabama games showed, there are some major flaws with this team, specifically in a half-court offense.

Ole Miss shot 8-for-34, just 23.5 percent in those two losses, and the offense officially seemed like a problem. The real concern came four days later when the offense bounced back, scoring 79 points on 69 possessions, with Devontae Shuler, KJ Buffen, Matthew Murrell, and Luis Rodriguez shooting a combined a 9 of 19 from 3-point range.

Then the defense fell apart.

The Shockers shot well from 3 as well (9-20), but three point shooting can sometimes be a bit hot or cold in college basketball. It was the two point defense (56.7 percent from inside the arc) that failed the Rebels and took away its last chance at a decent out of conference win.

With a cancellation against Memphis—though the two schools seem amenable to reschedule—a loss at Dayton, and a loss against Wichita, Ole Miss will have to prove it is an NCAA tournament team via conference play. Fortunately, with a down Kentucky, the middle class of the SEC features nearly everybody else not named Tennessee.

No better example - the beatdown Kermit and Co. handed out to Bruce Pearl’s Auburn team back in Oxford Wednesday. The final score read 72-61, but the Rebs led by as many midway through the second half.

The offense was better, not necessarily because of shooting (just 30 percent from 3), but because the Rebels cut down on costly turnovers that doomed them against both Alabama and Dayton. Devontae Shuler also had a career-high 10 assists to help jump start things for Sy, Romello White, and Luis Rodriguez.

The wins are there in the final 15 games of the season, but Ole Miss will need a healthy, re-energized Khadim Sy to show up. Sy played sparingly in his first two games of the season then missed four games due to COVID, before returning in limited minutes against the Tide and Shockers. Against Auburn on Wednesday, Sy showed how important he can be to the offense, pouring in 13 points in just 12 minutes making all three of his shots from beyond the arc and adding a couple of rebounds and a block.

A Sy-White-Rodriguez front court is likely among the better offensive front court combinations in the SEC, and their length along with Sy and Rodriguez’s ability to drag his defender away from goal only emphasizes the advantage.

Oh, and White? He’s 56th nationally in two-point percentage at just over 69 (!) percent, and leads the team with a block rate of 6.3 percent of all opponent attempts when guarded by White.

Also, hey look, we’re playing on Saturday.