OXFORD, Miss. – In his first year as head coach of the Ole Miss men’s basketball team, Kermit Davis has accomplished what had only been done eight times before in the Rebels’ 109 seasons— earning a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Coach Davis and his players, joined by a large contingent of Ole Miss fans in The Pavilion, cheered as they heard their names called during the March Madness Selection Show Sunday.
🔵Let’s go dancing, Rebels!!🔴
The Rebels get the 8 seed in the South region, and will face off with the 9-seed Oklahoma Sooners in Columbia, SC on Friday! #HottyToddy #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/pohvdLsgZM
— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) March 17, 2019
Rebels are No. 8 Seed
The eighth seed is the Ole Miss’ highest since the Rebels earned a No. 3 seed back in 2001.
Ole Miss defied all predictions, finishing 10-8 and tied for sixth in the conference—after having been picked by the media in preseason to finish 14th in the league.
The Rebels enjoyed a remarkable turnaround in Coach Davis’ first season, improving from 12-20 last year to the team’s current 20-12 record. The improvement of eight wins ranks as the number one turnaround of all teams in Power 5 schools for the 2018-19 season.
Coach Davis’ Quotes
Here are Coach Davis’ comments at the press conference following the release of the NCAA Tournament brackets.
“I’m so proud for our players, so happy for our fan base and the wondering full job that our support staff did (so far this season). Time flies. It’s amazing that it’s been a year since I had my (introductory) press conference in The Pavilion and just how quickly that it goes. For a team that finished last (in the SEC in 2018) and lost 11 of its last 12, was picked to finish last this season, and do what they did to earn a No. 8 seed with the body of work, I’m so happy for TD (Terence Davis), D.C. (Davis) and Bruce (Stevens) as seniors. Also, Breein (Tyree), Devontae (Shuler) and Dominik (Olejniczak), those guys that came back.
“It’s a terrific day for Ole Miss Basketball. We’re going to play an unbelievably well-coached basketball team (in Oklahoma). Lon Kruger’s teams have been there a lot of times. Oklahoma will be just like a really good SEC team that we will play. I’m sure they’re probably like us and have seen us a few times on TV, but we’ll dive into (a scouting report) tonight, tomorrow. To go back into and play in the SEC footprint I think is great. I hope we have a lot of Ole Miss Rebels in Columbia, South Carolina when we play on Friday.”
On expectations going into Selection Sunday
“As you went through the weekend you just never saw our name, but that’s a good feeling this time of year. (The analysts) usually talk about the first or second seeds or the bubble teams. I felt that we were safely in, and I did think (we would be) an 8 or 9 seed. It really doesn’t matter because you’re going to play the same (team) if you’re fortunate to win the first game. An 8 or 9 is about what we expected.”
On getting to share this moment with Terence Davis and Breein Tyree
“They told me, ‘Thank you,’ and I said, ‘No, it’s a big thank you back.’ And so that makes you feel good that you were a part of an experience (of making the NCAA Tournament) with those two guys that they had been waiting on, they’ve been working really hard for, and two guys that really love Ole Miss. So that was really fun to see, and it’s always fun when you have your fans and players right there (watching the Selection Show). You’ll have good preparation for the first game, but what’s really fun is when you get to the tournament host site. Then you can really start feeling it, and then the anticipation of the open practices. I think it’ll be a lot of fun.”
On what he will tell his team to expect in the NCAA Tournament
“You’re just going to play a team that’s good, that’s won (a lot of games), that’s well coached. That’s number one. Oklahoma will be like playing a good SEC game. But number two, just be who we are. It still leads up to preparation for that game. You can’t skip to the games. We get an extra day on Friday, so we’ll go really, really light on Monday. We’re just going to come to The Pavilion and do some shooting, and then we’ll dive into Oklahoma. You’ll have a good amount of time, but you have to go through that same preparation and keep these guys really fresh minded and anxious to play on Friday.”
On the feeling of seeing Ole Miss appear on the videoboard
“It just never gets old. It never does. This is the third different team that I’ve been involved with (going to the NCAA Tournament) – Idaho, Middle Tennessee and now at Ole Miss. It just never changes. That was the biggest screen (Pavilion videoboard) I’d ever seen our name pop up on, so that was pretty cool. But it never changes, it never gets old, and it was just a great experience. And like I said to have an Ole Miss fan base that so eager, and this is also being only the ninth time going to the NCAA Tournament in the history of the school, so not that many times. It’s something we hope, and Ross (Bjork) and I talked about multiple times in the interview that you’re in a position to where if you work like crazy, you know you have a chance to be in the tournament before Selection Sunday comes.”
On if the team expected to be here in year one
“I don’t know if you can say expected, but it was sure our goal. It was exactly our goal. It wasn’t something I just said in the opening press conference, coach speak, or to make it look good for TD (Terence Davis). I meant it. I hate to sound egotistical, but we won a lot of games over the last eight, nine, 10 years, so I guess if you get used to winning a little bit you kind of expect that that can happen. So as we got into our team, we thought we’d have a chance to be a good team. The only thing that scared me is just how darn good the SEC is. But with that like we’ve talked about with how good it is, the competition is, you don’t have to worry about winning your conference championship. You can be a really, really good team with a good NET Ranking, good quality wins, and our team was rewarded because of it.”
On how this impacts recruiting
“It’s unbelievable for recruiting. Not only what you think about with the fan base growing, sellouts, national TV and how it (The Pavilion) looked on TV, we’re already seeing a pop in 2020 and can see that for sure. I just think that now you get your name in the tournament and you start having success there, that’s when you really start getting your brand out there. It’s going to be nothing but a lot of positives for recruiting.”
On playing in a familiar arena
“I think it’s comfortable because we’ve played in Columbia, South Carolina. I’m sure we’ll stay in a different hotel. I think it helps, it can’t hurt. (Knowing) the shooting background, and it’s a big arena with sight lines that are really wide. It probably won’t determine the game, but I think our guys will walk in the gym and just have a feeling that we’ve been there before, shot balls in there and played a game (this season).”
On the confidence gained from winning the first SEC game at Vanderbilt
“The very first game with the win at Vanderbilt (gave us a lot of confidence) because Vanderbilt played good. We talked so much about trying to win on the road in the SEC, and that was one of the biggest things we talked about the very first week I got the job (at Ole Miss). Can we go and be competitive with the SEC on the road? And to go on the road and win that one, I think it gave our guys a confidence level, even more confidence in the staff and preparation in what we were doing. We had a lot of great wins, but that was probably the biggest win in SEC play because it gave us that lift that we can win on the road.”
On the importance of guard play in March
“I know TD (Terence Davis) and Breein (Tyree) have a bad taste in their mouth from (the SEC Tournament) because they’ve had such a tremendous year and they’ve helped us win so many games. You know for those guys to get similar looks after I watched the tape and the kind of shots, they made a bunch and just didn’t go down–and even with that, both of them said we still have a chance to win (against Alabama). You usually do when you get two guards that good, those guys are going to redeem themselves. I’m sure they’ll play (well) this tournament.”
On thoughts on the team’s stamina and depth
“You’re going to have really, really fresh minds this week. We did it for a reason, going hard (at practice) on Saturday and went hard (Sunday) for an hour and 45 minutes. We’ll really back it off tomorrow (Monday), just to do some free shooting. But you’re right. You have to go to the tournament – knock on wood – healthy and where your guys are anxious to come to the gym. They’re going to be anxious to be in the NCAA Tournament, but when they play, they have to feel right. That’s a huge thing and in those two tournament wins we won at (Middle Tennessee) I thought we handled it well for those guys to feel really fresh come gameday.”
On Bruce Stevens’ health
“He was fine. I didn’t know–and when I asked if he could come back into the game I thought he was available seeing him on the bench. He said, ‘Yeah Coach.’ He had a little bit of swelling (in his ankle), but he’s had absolutely no problem and has practiced the last two days.”
On what makes a good NCAA Tournament coach
“A track record and winning some in the tournament. And obviously Lon (Kruger) has been to two Final Fours, taking both Florida and Oklahoma. I just hope that preparation of our team, some of the SEC Tournament experience that we’ve had that we’ll know how to handle it, and what we talk about during the week. You’re going up against a guy (in Coach Kruger) that has great experience and is very respected in our business.”
On advanced scouting reports
“Yeah. Ronnie (Hamilton) always had the first round games when we beat Michigan State and Minnesota, so Ronnie will take Oklahoma. We’ll decide with the Virginia and (Gardner-Webb) game what assistants will be assigned to each of those teams. It will all be done in advance. If you’re fortunate enough to win, then you’ll be able to personally scout who you’ll be able to play.”
On if he’s analyzed much of the bracket and the NET Rankings
“I haven’t. I just kind of saw our name and I saw Virginia, and I had to ask somebody what day we play. I’ll get the bracket and kind of take a look at it. You know Oklahoma is obviously the biggest deal and obviously you have a team like Virginia who is well coached and played as well over the whole year as anybody in college basketball.”