Preview: Ole Miss Takes On Oklahoma in Final of ESPN Events Invitational
ORLANDO –Ole Miss is in the finals of the ESPN Events Invitational today at 12:30 p.m. (CT). The Rebels (6-0) look to remain unbeaten on the year as they face off against Oklahoma. The last time an Ole Miss basketball program started the year 7-0 was in the 2007-2008 season.
To get to the championship game, Kermit Davis’ team beat Stanford in the first round and Siena in the following round. Part of this is due to a meteoric rise from Amaree Abram. The freshman guard has averaged 22.5 points per game through both contests, while really adding a third scoring level to his game. Forward Jaemyn Brakefield has also found his groove, using his skill to score in a variety of ways.
Oklahoma enters the contest with a 5-1 record. The Sooners lost the initial game of the season to Sam Houston State but have followed it up with five straight wins. In Orlando (Kissimmee), the Sooners won their first two rounds against Nebraska and Seton Hall.
With both teams off to a good start, today’s matchup could prove to be as good as a conference game and have good NET implications.
Matchup by the Numbers
Oklahoma – 30
Ole Miss – 53
Grant Sherfield (OU) – 16.2 PPG
Tanner Groves (OU) – 10.8 PPG
Matthew Murrell (OM) – 15.2 PPG
Amaree Abram (OM) – 12.2 PPG
Key Team Stats
Ole Miss: 21st in the NCAA in offensive rebounding. 28th in Free Throws Allowed. 63rd in Steals
Oklahoma: 21st in NCAA in points allowed. 2nd in opposition three pointers made.
Ole Miss Keys to the Game
The Spot-Up Jumpshot
In the team’s second year under Porter Moser, Oklahoma’s defense has found its form. Anyone who remembers the Loyola-Chicago run to the final four in 2018 should know that good defense is a staple of any Moser team. As mentioned earlier, Oklahoma has been highly affective in not allowing many three pointers. On the year their opponents have only averaged 4.0 makes from three per game.
While the numbers may not show it, Ole Miss’ offense is better when the Rebels can establish things from the outside. Matthew Murrell’s hot start from the perimeter has stretched defenses enough to allow more space on the interior for offensive rebounds and tip outs. A major question today will be how well Ole Miss can get quality looks from the perimeter.
A deep dive into the Synergy stats tells us that Matthew Murrell uses the spot-up jumper the most. That number is 23% of his offensive looks. His most effective comes from what we see the second-most from him, which are off-screen jumpers which he has takes 21% of the time. In fact, the Ole Miss offense as a whole uses spot-up Jumpers 19% of the time, largely between the aforementioned Murrell, Brakefield, Burns, and James White.
Oklahoma’s defense has seen 89 spot-up possessions this season. So far, opposing offenses have been highly ineffective and are only able to shoot 29.1% from the field on these shots. It’ll be interesting to see if Kermit Davis can scheme up some ways to get some open looks. For now it’s something to keep an eye on come game time.
The Freshman Playmakers
The second point also comes down to Ole Miss’ offense. This year with the absence of Daeshun Ruffin (injury) to start, Ole Miss has needed its freshman guards — Amaree Abram and TJ Caldwell — to step up. One of the areas where the Oklahoma defense has struggled is defending pick-and-roll ball handlers.
This is a potential area for Ole Miss to exploit. The Sooners’ opposition has scored at a 44% rate when running some form of a pick-n-roll. Abram has been deemed ‘very good’ as a pick and roll handler by Synergy, while Caldwell was labeled ‘good’. The duo both have the same 50% FG and 53.8% EFG percentage in this play category.
It’ll be interesting to see if Abram can continue to knife his way into the paint for some runners off of this or if he can continue to use that step-back from the mid-range and perimeter. Caldwell has excelled using this to get into the mid-range, rising up over defenders. Both guards have an opportunity to impress early on in their Ole Miss careers today.
Show a Variety of Looks
The Oklahoma offense has been very effective against Man defenses. They rank in the 89th percentile in points per possession and have seen man defense 84% of the time. A lot of the Sooners’ success can come from the hands of Grant Sherfield. Oklahoma’s leading scorer is a decisive guard who’s having his third straight high-volume season scoring. (The last two were at Nevada).
Similar to the opportunity the Ole Miss guards have, the defense has the same challenge to not let Sherfield find success as a pick-n-roll handler. Sherfield ranks in the 91st percentile and will routinely look to capitalize on high ball screens.
So far this season, Ole Miss has handled ball screens well. If the Rebels can take away Sherfield’s success early on, it could put some more pressure on the Groves brothers.
Ole Miss can take away the bread-and-butter of this Sooner offense by doing something the Rebels have all tournament: continue to mix things up, keep your players fresh, play with pace. Using the 1-3-1 off of makes and getting into a pressure defense can make Oklahoma feel uneasy.
The Sooners have seen 59 possessions against zone defense and have managed to shoot 40.4% against it.
Play-by-Play: Dave O’Brien
Color: Dick Vitale
Sideline: Chris Spatola
OLE MISS RADIO
Radio: Ole Miss Radio Network
Play-by-Play: Eli Savoie
Color: Marc Dukes
Be sure to follow along for live game updates and more Ole Miss basketball coverage!
TJ Oxley is the Director of Basketball Content and Senior Basketball Writer for The Rebel Walk. He has over five years of experience providing in-depth analysis of college basketball through multiple platforms. A former MBA graduate of Ole Miss, TJ started with The Rebel Walk in 2019.