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Let’s review the Kermit Davis Era with Ole Miss basketball

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It’s Year 4 and not getting better.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Kentucky Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Barring a run that has never occurred in the history of the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament, Ole Miss’ season will end in Tampa* either Wednesday night or pre-happy hour on Thursday or Friday afternoon. For the third straight year under Kermit Davis, Ole Miss will not play in the NCAA Tournament, and it will also forgo the opportunity to lose in the NIT first round in back-to-back seasons.

*Whenever you can have a conference basketball tournament in a place where it’s a seven-hour drive from the nearest school not named Florida, you have to do it. Oh, and based on Google Maps and my math, there’s an average driving time of 10.5 hours from SEC campuses to Tampa. Logistics: It just means more!

How the program got here isn’t much of a mystery. In year one, Davis’ team, which reached the NCAA Tournament, featured* Terence Davis (NBA), Breein Tyree (NBA G League), and Devontae Shuler (NBA G League), all of whom were not recruited by Davis. As those players departed over years 1-3, they weren’t replaced with NBA or borderline NBA talent.

*Bruce Stevens and Dominik Olejniczak were also on that team and later played abroad, meaning additional professional talent.

Obviously, recruiting elite basketball talent to Ole Miss is challenging because [gestures at the history of Ole Miss basketball], so it’s unreasonable to think there should be one NBA-level player on each season’s roster. The problem in the Davis era coming into this season is that, whether through recruiting misevaluations, outright missing on guys in recruiting, or lack of development, the year one talent has been replaced mostly with guys who are role players in the SEC.

There’s nothing wrong with role players because every team needs them, but a good team is driven by guys who can consistently take its level of play to a place other guys can’t. Having multiple versions of those guys has been an issue since year one.

There’s also the glaring stat everyone is ignoring, which is, after a 13-2 (3-0 SEC) start in his first yera, Davis’ teams haven’t been good. Since that time, Ole Miss has gone 51-58 overall and 28-45 (.383) in the SEC, counting SEC Tournament games. That also includes one NCAA Tournament appearance (0-1) and one NIT appearance (0-1). The advanced stats analysis here is “not ideal.”

The regression has been there, we just haven’t been paying attention to it. All it took was the worst SEC regular season win percentage (.222) since Rob Evans’ (ROB EVANS) 3-13 campaign (.188) in 1995 to notice. And fans did notice, as the only SEC team Ole Miss outdrew per game at home was Vanderbilt.

Despite this regression and fan apathy*, signs point to a better than average chance of Davis returning for Year 5. The arguments for a return include injuries derailed this season, Davis and staff have talented recruits coming in, and Daeshun Ruffin provided a promising glimpse of what he could become before being lost for the year.

*Of note, one of the things Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter cited when firing Matt Luke was fan apathy.

Ruffin’s injury in the first game of the year was the most significant due to his abilities being greater than those of anyone else on the team. Instead of getting a month’s worth of non-conference games to develop game chemistry with his teammates, he had to do it on the fly in SEC games.

While his play was promising and maybe stunted by the lack of non-conference games, Ole Miss’ record with him in the lineup was 7-7 (3-6 in SEC play). Obviously, that’s not a Ruffin problem, as he had his moments where he was very much not a role player and the best player on the floor for Ole Miss.

It’s more of a failure of it being year four of Kermit Davis, and the plan was to hope a talented true freshman point guard could carry the team. Not to mention the roster had no true backup point guard if he missed any time (which he did!) or needed to not play 40 minutes a game.

As for the pro-Davis retention recruiting arguments, in order for next year to be better, he needs a healthy Ruffin and Murrell to make a leap, and find contributors out of a true freshman class and the transfer portal (particularly in the frontcourt). Based on what we’ve seen through four years, it’s not a bet I’d like to make.

Finally (and the people said AMEN), some advanced stats to explain what we’ve been watching. From the legendary Ken Pomeroy, it’s Ole Miss’ offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency, and tempo (all adjusted for opponents; out of 358 teams):

  • 2019 - 33rd, 80th, 131st
  • 2020 - 158th, 74th, 196th
  • 2021 - 109th, 25th, 318th
  • 2022 - 113th, 104th, 281st

Offensively, they haven’t been good since year one. Defensively, they regressed significantly this year, and tempo-wise, they’re miserable to watch.

Digging a little deeper, we turn to the Four Factors of Basketball Success. These measure how effectively a team shoots the ball, how often it shoots and makes free throws, how well it rebounds, and how often it turns it over. The point being, if you’re efficient on offense, make a lot of free throws, rebound well, and don’t turn it over, you’re probably going to win (assuming you limit those same stats for your opponent). I know, groundbreaking details here.

Defensively, Ole Miss is mostly okay. But look at these offensive numbers, which are, in fact, offensive:

Effective Field Goal Percentage

  • 2019 - 81st
  • 2020 - 247th
  • 2021 - 246th
  • 2022 - 224th

Free Throw Rate

  • 2019 - 239th
  • 2020 - 69th (obligatory: nice)
  • 2021 - 97th
  • 2022 - 230th

Total Rebound Percentage

  • 2019 - 126th
  • 2020 - 235th
  • 2021 - 46th
  • 2022 - 218th

Turnover Rate

  • 2019 - 170th
  • 2020 - 199th
  • 2021 - 243rd
  • 2022 - 172nd

Who wouldn’t want to watch another year of an offense that is inefficient, doesn’t create extra scoring opportunities, and can’t take care of the basketball!

We shall see what Keith Carter and influential people decide about the return of Kermit Davis, but I don’t understand the point of waiting when we’ve already crossed the beginning of the end.

If year five does happen, a preview of 2022-23 Gray: