Answering Ole Miss Fans’ Biggest Preseason Basketball Questions
OXFORD, Miss. — We are officially just three days away from the tipoff of the college basketball season!
This coming Wednesday, the seasons begins with the inaugural Justin Reed Ole Miss Classic at The Pavilion. Ole Miss will host the trio of Central Arkansas, Jackson State, and Arkansas State in the multi-team event starting at 1:00 p.m. CT on Wednesday.
— Ole Miss Men’s Basketball (@OleMissMBB) November 20, 2020
This year’s Rebels hoops squad has an entirely different look and feel about it compared to last year’s team. Head coach Kermit Davis has added players via high school recruits as well as the transfer market, while returning a good amount of the core from last season’s team — losing only Breein Tyree to graduation and Blake Hinson to the transfer portal.
Although they only lost two players from last season, make no mistake — this Ole Miss team is a lot more physical and talented than last year and has much more depth. I think there are avenues for Coach Davis’ team to be able to go 10-11 deep.
We know you have questions about how the Rebels will look, how they’ll play, and what their realistic goals are for the season. So we took to social media to give our Rebel Walk followers a chance to ask those questions. Here are a few of the top responses we received:
Thoughts on the 2020-2021 Schedule?
The schedule seems pretty favorable in my opinion. The start with the Justin Reed Ole Miss Classic should be a good time to work out some of the early-season rust, but having Memphis play in Oxford this time around, on our rims, gives me a good feeling.
Playing at Alabama will be a tough start to conference play, but following it up with three straight home games (vs Wichita St., Auburn, and South Carolina) should give the Rebels some momentum heading into Mid-January.
The stretch that gives me the most cause for pause starts on February 2nd when Ole Miss hosts Tennessee. The Vols have a really impressive roster that adds a Top-5 nationally ranked class with two Top-20 recruits (Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson) as well as a coveted grad transfer in E.J. Anosike.
The Rebels then have a couple days before traveling to Auburn to play the Tigers on the road. After that, they head back home for a showdown with a Missouri team that brings back Dru Smith and Xavier Pinson who caused fits for the Rebels last year.
Overall, I think the Rebels could escape non-conference with only one or two losses, depending on how well they play Memphis and Dayton. The conference schedule gives Ole Miss a lot of the tougher opponents at home, as well as some winnable SEC games on the road (Mississippi State, Georgia, Auburn, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt) which I think can be huge for the Rebels’ resume.
Key Teams to Monitor
- South Carolina
Who are the starting five — or is there even a clear starting five?
I am not so sure there is a clear-cut starting five yet. I think the Justin Reed multi-team event will be a great time to tinker around with lineups to see who plays well together, because the Rebels have a lot of guys with starting experience on the roster.
The big question when it comes to this is CHEMISTRY. A lot of players on this squad had big roles in prior experiences, and this season may be different. Teams that can navigate how things work with all the COVID-19 restrictions and find ways to gel will be able to reap the benefits. Coach Kermit has talked quite positively several times this fall about the Rebels’ chemistry, so that will be fun to watch.
Ole Miss returns Devontae Shuler and K.J. Buffen, who I do think will be starters this season. Before he got hurt, Luis Rodriquez started all five games. Khadim Sy also started a majority of games last season. The Rebels then brought in talented freshman Matthew Murrell whose shotmaking ability may make him tough to have on the bench. All the transfers also bring starting experience.
If I had to guess, this is how I believe we will see the lineup look next week:
Guard: Devontae Shuler
Guard: Jarkel Joiner OR Matthew Murrell
Wing: Luis Rodriquez OR Dimencio Vaughn
Forward: K.J. Buffen
Forward: Romello White
It will be interesting to watch Joiner and Murrell jockey for time. Joiner adds another ball-handler/scorer to the unit after coming back home from a stint at Cal State Bakersfield where he was the only Roadrunner to start all 34 games last season. Murrell, a four-star freshman guard who was ranked as the No. 39 payer in the country by ESPN, can definitely put the ball in the basket from deep and from pull ups.
The wing battle between Rodriguez and Vaughn is very fun. They both have justified reasons to start them, and while one may start, the other will certainly be one of the first men off the bench. White started for three years at Arizona State, and while Khadim Sy made significant improvements last season the job is his to lose.
We have heard a lot about the improvement of Luis Rodriguez. What does he bring to the Rebels this season?
One of my favorite phrases about basketball is you can never have too many wings, and that may come into play with the Rebels this season. Luis, specifically, could look to be a starter or an energizer off the bench. I think if you look at last year, you see the hustle and athleticism he can bring to a game.
On the offensive end, Rodriguez could be a third weapon who can make an impact as a smart slasher who will attack and kick or attack and finish. If the shot comes, defenses will have to start stunting him, making the offense more dangerous, but his ability to get into the lane should be valued as Devontae, Matthew, and Jarkel will look to hit shots from deep and be primary playmakers.
On the defensive end, Luis offers the versatility which Coach Davis covets. Being able to guard 2 through 4, Rodriquez can switch on the perimeter but also can help inside with his 220-lb frame. Luis is also a solid rebounder and will help in that regard as well.
My favorite KJ Buffen… What will his role be this year with all the new faces coming in?
My favorite KJ Buffen…what will his role be this year with all the new faces coming in?
— CathyCox (@CathyCox5) November 20, 2020
Ahhh, K.J. Buffen. I don’t think there’s an Ole Miss player who has grown as much under Kermit Davis as K.J. Last year he started every game but one, and this year he should expect to start a majority of the contests as well. Earlier I talked about the versatility Rodriguez offers, and now I’ll spin it to K.J.
Coach Davis has said Buffen has the ability to guard 1 through 5, and that defensive presence will be a force. Lining him up in a forward spot as one who can attack bigger forwards off the perimeter will be his offensive specialty, and we should look for him to continue to work at grabbing rebounds.
I think the real value lies defensively where he will be a physical defender who can cut off attacks, recover onto kick outs, and bang with the bigs down low. I think he could be an ‘x-factor’ for the success of the team this season.
What are some reasonable expectations for this team?
I think a lot of how this team succeeds will be based on how well they play with each other. This is a new team that has a lot of fresh faces, so getting people to understand roles and how to distribute minutes could be something to monitor.
I think most notable media outlets say Ole Miss looks to be in the 8th-10th place range; however, I don’t think they realize the experience this team has. Shuler needs to take a jump as a scorer for this team to really excel, and he will be aided by Murrell and Joiner. I think the ceiling for this team is around 6th in the conference standings, but if the team chemistry is as strong as indicated, there’s no telling. If the Rebels struggle to find points, their ceiling could fall to 9th or 10th.
How deep do you think the Rebels can go in this year’s tournament?
I assume we are talking NCAA tournament here, but I’ll look at the SEC tournament as well. If the Rebels perform well in the regular season, I believe they can make it to the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament after winning a contest in the second round. This would position them well to get back into the NCAA tournament. From there, I think the goal would be to make it to the round of 32. I think the big win is for Ole Miss to make the NCAA tournament. Getting past the first weekend of the Big Dance would be gravy.
TJ Oxley is a current MBA student at Ole Miss after having earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Toledo. He currently covers college hoops and the NBA Draft for the Basketball Society as well as all things Ole Miss for The Rebel Walk.