Men’s Basketball Preview: Ole Miss hits the road to take on Memphis
OXFORD, Miss. — Just 85 miles mark the distance between the University of Memphis and Ole Miss. With such close proximity, the two sides have a storied history against one other, and today’s men’s basketball contest will be the 44th time the Rebels and Tigers will meet.
Last year, the teams faced off in Oxford as Ole Miss narrowly edged Memphis, 67-63. This year the matchup proves to be the first true road game of the season for head coach Kermit Davis’ team.
Both teams competed in the ESPN Events Invitational last week in Orlando. Ole Miss would go on to reach the finals of the tournament with wins against Stanford and Siena. The Rebels (6-1) would lose in the finals against Oklahoma, while Memphis (5-2) lost its first game of the tournament to Seton Hall, but then followed that up with wins over Nebraska and Stanford.
Ole Miss and Memphis both have had good starts to the season but each team seems to be aware of how important this early season matchup may be.
“I don’t know if it a measuring stick, but it is a game we should be looking forward to. It is a meaningful game in December in the South. Our NET [NCAA Evaluation Tool] is around 50. Their NET is around 26. It is one of those Quad I games that…will mean a great deal in March.”
Ole Miss head coach Kermit Davis on the game vs. Memphis
Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway took to the mic and echoed a similar message.
“This is a test for us to win big games and prove to ourselves that we’re doing the right things and we can compete against anyone in the country.“
Coach Penny Hardaway
Both coaches are fair in their assessment.
Currently, Memphis has the lead in the KenPom rankings as the Tigers check in at No. 28. Ole Miss comes in just a little bit later at 52nd. This certainly has the makeup of a resume game, and both sides will look to take advantage of the matchup and further add to the history.
Many are wondering when we will see the season debut of Daeshun Ruffin who has been out with an injury. Coach Davis provided an update Friday, saying that Ruffin’s status will be a game-time decision.
While we still don’t know if Ruffin will suit up or not, Memphis is preparing as if he will.
“He’s an offensive weapon. He’s not afraid to take big shots. He makes big shots. He’s very hard to deal with.”
Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway
Three Keys for Ole Miss
1. Win the Battle of the X-Factors: Jaemyn Brakefield vs. Deandre Williams
Two players who have played key roles for each team get to square off against each other. The matchup between Jaemyn Brakefield and Deandre Williams may be one of the best forward battles all year for Ole Miss fans to watch. Both players have played vital roles on their teams and have been incredibly efficient as well.
Williams is one of the oldest players in all of college basketball, playing at age 26. After one season at Evansville, he transferred to Memphis where he’s been a key starter for the past two seasons.
This season, Williams has been the second option for Memphis behind Kendric Davis. On the year, Williams is averaging 13.3 PPG and 6.7 RPG.
Williams is a terror for a forward in transition. His 1.857 points per possession in transition is in the 100th percentile in all of college basketball. In the half court, he is used in a large variety of ways. He gets over 10% usage in five different categories in the half court. Those include: as a spot-up shooter, PNR man, off of cuts, post plays, and off of sets.
For Ole Miss, Jaemyn Brakefield has quietly made major strides from last season. Coming into Saturday’s contest, Brakefield has scored in double figures in three of the four contests where he has played over 20 minutes.
Like Williams, Brakefield has excelled in transition, ranking in the 96th percentile. The major difference is that in the half-court the Ole Miss offense looks to get him mostly spot-up shots. With Kermit Davis’ emphasis on physicality this year and scoring in the paint, it may be interesting to see if the Rebels try to use Brakefield’s size advantage to work more in the post.
The matchup between these two will be one to monitor all throughout the game. If Jaemyn can prove to be the better of the two, it could go a long way for Ole Miss to establish themselves the rest of the season.
2. Limit Kendric Davis
Penny Hardaway wanted a high-volume scoring guard, and this past season he went out and got one in SMU transfer Kendric Davis.
The 2021-2022 American Conference Player of the Year, Davis has continued his scoring ways for the Tigers this season as he is averaging 19.4 points per game. Davis accounts for 26.2% of the usage for Memphis this season.
His 145 possessions of use are nearly double that of the second place Deandre Williams (79). The Rebels will have to be ready for his creation ability as over 40% of Davis’ shots have been off the dribble jumpers.
For Ole Miss to limit Davis, the Rebs need to take away two types of plays and try to get him in one certain play.
What Davis has excelled on this year is scoring in transition — which he tries to do over 20% of the time — and as a PNR ball handler which he only does 9.6% of the time but is highly effective in. It’ll be up to Amaree Abram and TJ Caldwell (and potentially Daeshun Ruffin) to limit him.
The good news is that Abram has players shooting only 41.7% from the field and Caldwell is even lower, with players only shooting 31.4%.
Keep Dialing Up Murrell
The first four games of the season Matthew Murrell was phenomenal. The sharpshooter scored 15 or more in three of those first four games and scored in double figures during all four. He didn’t enjoy the same success in Orlando. Murrell scored in double figures once in the three game event. Murrell went 3/16 from deep in Orlando. Prior to that he was 14/36.
Kermit Davis should continue to call his number throughout the game on Saturday, and if Ruffin comes back, Murrell could find more opportunity. The combination of Ruffin, Abram, and Murrell could keep Murrell from getting run off the line so much.
Memphis’ defense has been its worst against the three this season. Out of the 215 jump shots Memphis has allowed, 174 have been from three. The Tigers do a good job at forcing teams to the perimeter; however, the 1.011 points per possession is in the bottom half of the NCAA.
Kermit Davis should dial up a few more sets to get Murrell some looks from deep to see if he can re-establish his form.
Tipoff at Memphis is set for 6:30 p.m. CT on ESPN2 inside the FedEx Forum.
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(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss)
TJ Oxley is the Vice President of Operations and the Director of Community Relations for The Rebel Walk. He is also the Director of Basketball Content and Senior Basketball Writer. 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.