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Heading into SEC play, here are five takeaways from Ole Miss Hoops’ first six games

Heading into SEC play, here are five takeaways from Ole Miss Hoops’ first six games

OXFORD, Miss. — After a quick holiday break, the Ole Miss Rebels begin conference play Tuesday night against Alabama in Tuscaloosa. They enter the contest 5-1 and bring plenty of excitement with them from their first six games.

Their victories (Jackson State, UNC-Wilmington, Central Arkansas, Middle Tennessee, and Tennessee-Martin) have been good showings where Ole Miss won handily. The lone loss came against Dayton in a game the Rebels seemingly controlled all the way to the final few minutes.

This season, Ole Miss is projected by major sports media outlets to finish anywhere from the 7-10 spot in the conference, and tomorrow night’s contest against the Crimson Tide (5-3) could show us where the Rebels truly are amidst conference foes.

History certainly seems to be on Ole Miss’ side as the Rebels have finished higher in the conference than projected in seven of the last nine seasons. If the predictions hold up, Ole Miss could be in for a big jump from that 7-10 spot as the Rebs are favored in 16 of their final 19 contests.

While we haven’t seen SEC competition yet, I think it may be fair to say the league may shake out a lot differently than preseason predictions, as Arkansas, Georgia, and Missouri all enter conference play undefeated while Kentucky has struggled out of the gate.

We can’t predict the future of head coach Kermit Davis’ team, but we can reflect on what we have seen thus far. So here are five takeaways from the Rebels’ non-conference games. (Yes, Ole Miss still has a non-conference game scheduled against Wichita State, but SEC play starts Tuesday.)

No. 1 – Playing the Game Their Way

We’ve started to notice a theme with this team. Kermit wants his guys to play physical, aggressive defense, making the right rotations to try and force turnovers — while also owning the paint and limiting other teams’ second chances and making it tough for them to score inside.

In every contest so far, we have seen the opposition adjust to Ole Miss’ style of play, and when a team can dictate that it gives them an advantage. This is a good sign to see early on for this squad.

How well has that style of play worked for them? The biggest stat you will see is that Ole Miss currently ranks second in the nation in opponents’ points per game (52.7 PPG). That will be everywhere, but diving into it we see that Ole Miss opponents currently average 18.3 field goals per game while attempting 51.2 field goals.

That 18.3 field goals is fourth in the nation, and a lot of it can be attributed to Ole Miss not allowing second chances. The Rebels’ defensive rebound percentage is second in the SEC, sitting at 81.2% only behind Tennessee. On top of that, the defense’s impact on protecting the paint is impressive as Ole Miss is fourth in the nation at two-point FG%.

Let’s take a look from a different perspective as Ole Miss has shown a trend of getting out ahead early in the first half. So far on the season, the Rebels have a first-half scoring margin of +106 on their opponents, which ends up being a +17.6 average over the six games.

However, statistics don’t tell the entire story so here are a couple clip breakdowns that show some of what makes this Ole Miss defense so stifling.

In this first clip we can see the attention to detail that makes the defense go.  We see a switch from Devontae Shuler on the man coming off the down screen, while also positioning himself in between the man and ball preventing any sort of dribble handoff.

You then see Jarkel Joiner play the post, preventing a quick feed off the seal by quartering the post only allowing a pass toward the baseline. We then see both Romello White and a weak side defender sink down in case a pass would happen. Lastly, the active hands to poke the ball free and hustle to force the turnover.

This clip may be my favorite of Ole Miss’ defense. At the start, we see good communication from Sammy Hunter to let Shuler know the screen is coming, allowing Shuler to jump above and “ice” the screen. Icing a screen is a common concept that allows the defense to not let the ballhandler attack the middle where things are open by forcing a ballhandler to reject a screen heading to the sideline.

After a good pass to the screener, Dimencio Vaughn “stunts” the drive forcing a pull-up jumper. This allows for Hunter to make a recovery on the shot ultimately turning the defense into offense.

No. 2 – The Transfer Impact

There are a lot of new faces on this Ole Miss squad. We have seen three new faces crack the starting lineup so far in Romello White, Jarkel Joiner, and Robert Allen. Joiner, the hometown kid, has been with the program for a year but in his first season of play we can see why we’re lucky to have him back in Oxford. White and Allen have brought a tremendous amount of hustle to the forward positions after joining the team this summer.

Joiner was known as a tremendous scorer after leading the Western Athletic Conference in scoring during conference play in 2018-2019. While we haven’t seen the consistent offensive production from him (YET), we have seen some impressive defense from Joiner that was a shock to me.

In this play De’Andre Jones tries to get downhill while attacking quickly. Jones is one of the better playmakers in the Southland conference and already owns the UCA assist record. Joiner cuts off his lane forcing him into a halt and retreat dribble when he decides to try and beat Joiner off the dribble again. Joiner beats him to the paint on the second drive and forces Jones into an unnecessary pass that leads to a Luis Rodriquez bucket. This won’t show up in the stat sheet but Joiner singlehandedly ended this UCA possession.

In this play, Joiner gets over top the screen while guarding from the point of attack. Joiner cuts off the drive twice, the second time forcing a last second shot from deep while keeping his hands perfectly straight up to contest the shot. I wish I had a clip of it, but watch Joiner’s off ball defense next time you catch a game. It is equally impressive, but the effort on the defensive end will keep him in the game as his offense will progress the more comfortable he gets on the court.

Next up is Romello White who has been something of a revelation down low. White adds an intensity that others simply haven’t been able to do. His post game has been super efficient, as he currently owns a true shooting percentage above 72%. True shooting percentage accounts for the overall quality of all shots taken and anything over 60% is considered exceptional. It isn’t just his scoring as his rim protection and passing have also been impeccable. White has boosted his BLK%s and AST%s to a new level while being in the Ole Miss blue and red.

Here Romello receives the post feed, notices the clogged paint and fires a pass to Luis in the corner for three.

I have other clips showing White’s weak side protection while getting the block, but check this play here against UCA. Buffen eventually recovers to make the block but White is right there ready to make a play if needed. This play also shows the hustle and rim running of White who doesn’t get the feed until later in the sequence.

No. 3 – Luis Rodriquez: The Glue Guy

Every good team has a guy who comes in and makes the right decisions, hustles, and makes a big positive impact on the game. Ole Miss version is Luis Rodriquez who we didn’t get to see much of last year after he suffered a season-ending injury only five games into the season.

Luis has been a jack-of-all trades for the Rebels this season. He leads the team in rebounds, is fourth in scoring, second in assists, second in blocks and second in steals. Oh, and he is also shooting 37.5% from deep while finishing well around the rim. He almost averages a double-double on the season, and if there is anyone who can make a play that could jump start the Rebels, my bet is that it would be him.

In the play above, Luis gets stripped of the ball. However, the effort that comes after it is what is incredibly impressive. Watch Rodriquez chase down the play, and even though he fouls the opposition he doesn’t let the Blue Raiders score easily. Notice the score, too, as Ole Miss is up by 23. It could easily be a moment to just let the bucket happen, but that’s not Rodriquez. Coaches, fans, everyone likes this kind of play, and it represents what Luis brings to this team.

No. 4 – The Rise of Devontae Shuler

It was no secret that Ole Miss needed someone to step up when Breein Tyree graduated last year. I can also say that most everybody looked to Shuler to take that leap in leadership. Ole Miss has seven new players on the roster playing minutes, and Coach Davis needed someone to take over and show everyone the Ole Miss Way.

Shuler certainly did take over by putting up 23 in Ole Miss’s first contest in an efficient 9-10 shooting outing. He continued his hot start for the next two games, putting up 18 and 20 against UNC-Wilmington and Central Arkansas. Eventually Shuler cooled off a bit but, scoring isn’t the only thing a leader needs to do. If anything, a leader needs to embody the identity of the coach and live it out on the floor. That’s where Shuler has excelled on the floor.

In the above clip Shuler took over the game for 10 seconds, forcing two turnovers, drawing a foul and scoring in the process. This play is the very identity of Ole Miss basketball, gritty and aggressive. He also makes extra passes, plays stingy on and off ball defense. He is the heart and soul of this Ole Miss team, and his leadership will have a major impact on the success of the Rebels.

No. 5 – The Offense is Getting There

Early on in the season we saw a few offensive woes. One of the biggest complaints centered around who would be the one to step up and become the third option to score, alongside Shuler and Romello White. Was it going to be Joiner, Luis Rodriquez, KJ Buffen or someone off the bench like Matthew Murrell or Austin Crowley? The reality is that it could be any one of the five. Each of the individuals has begun to show flashes of either shot making or playmaking that can excite.

The duo of Joiner and Buffen are the most likely to, as both have began to find their stride over the last three games. Each has scored in double figures over the last three games, with Joiner averaging 12.0 over the stretch and Buffen scoring 13.0 points per game.

The Rebels have experienced their fair share of shooting woes early on, especially from beyond the arc, but in the loss to Dayton and the win over UT-Martin the team appears to have found its groove. The Rebels put up 16 threes over the contests, shooting 37% percent. Freshman Matthew Murrell found some confidence in the corner three, and Austin Crowley began to knock down a couple, proving that the Rebels can be a threat from deep even though it may not be their identity.

All in all, Ole Miss is starting to find contributors all over the place and while the team begins to settle in for the season, we should see some offensive consistency going forward.

Next Game: 

Ole Miss travels to Tuscaloosa to play the Crimson Tide at 8:00 p.m. (CT) in Coleman Coliseum. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.

About The Author

TJ Oxley

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.

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