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PREVIEW: Ole Miss men’s basketball hosts UCF

PREVIEW: Ole Miss men’s basketball hosts UCF

OXFORD, Miss. — Ole Miss is fresh off the heels of its best offensive game of the season when six Rebels scored in double figures in a 98-point outburst against Valparaiso.

Saturday’s win was the most points scored by a Kermit Davis-led Ole Miss team, and it was the best offensive performance we’ve seen from the group all season.

Daeshun Ruffin really flashed for Ole Miss, showing the high-level scoring acumen that made him a favorite amongst fans last year.

The sophomore, who was in his second game back after being out with a bone bruise, scored 14 points on 6-7 shooting. His minutes were capped, so the question remains how much more playing time the guard will see as he continues to come back from injury.

This evening, the Rebels (7-2) now get the opportunity to build on the confidence from Saturday with UCF coming to Oxford.

Coach Davis’ team is currently 6-0 at home and looks to extend that streak. This will be the fourth time Ole Miss has shared the hardwood with Central Florida, with the Rebs emerging victorious in all three of the prior games. The most recent win for the Rebels came in an 84-56 victory at the Tad Pad in 2010.

Where Ole Miss Stands Now

The season is off to a rather intriguing start for Ole Miss. As it stands now, the Rebels have the makeup of a tournament team. They’ll need to continue that level of play as they begin to boost their resume heading down the home stretch of the non-conference slate.

Ole Miss holds a NET ranking of 62 (as of Tuesday) and boasts an impressive Quad 1 win over NET-darling Florida Atlantic. Their lone Q1 loss is to Memphis in a game where the Rebels struggled to find their rhythm. Their next quality game is the loss to Oklahoma that is on the fringe of being Q1 . The Sooners currently sit just outside the top-50.

UCF (7-2) comes to Oxford as the second leg of a five-game homestand for Ole Miss, and it is certainly one Rebel fans should be excited about. Johnny Dawkins’ Knights bring a similar style and record to what Ole Miss has shown, and this could be a rather interesting chess match between two teams with similar identities.

Let’s take a closer look at how both these teams compare — and some keys to an Ole Miss victory.

Who is UCF?

The Knights, who play in the American Conference, have had some recent success with head coach Johnny Dawkins. Similar to Ole Miss, the Knights have a new group of guys who bring a lot of size and athleticism to the floor.

After an early season loss to UNC Ashville, the UCF has impressed with wins over Florida State and Oklahoma State. UCF’s second loss was a two-point game to Miami. Dawkins’ team currently sits at 78th in the NET, and the matchup against Ole Miss will be the first true road test for the Knights.

Like Ole Miss, UCF is a team that prides itself on its defense. So far, Ole Miss has played two very good defensive teams (Memphis and Oklahoma) and are about to face a third.

The Knights rank in the 94th percentile in half-court defense this season. Dawkins has begun to look for a blend of size and athleticism and that has led to opposing teams being only able to shoot 36.8% from the field. UCF ranks in the 90th percentile or above in every points-per-possession metric Synergy Sports provides.

The driving force of offense for UCF this season has been the play of freshman Taylor Hendricks. A former top-75 recruit out of high school, the 6-foot-9 forward leads the Knights in both scoring and rebounding. On top of that, the scoring has largely come from guard play, including from a couple of seniors and a couple of sophomores.

UCF has started seven different players on the season so far. Of those seven, five are transfers and four are seniors. The two big men who have started each have experience at the Power Five level. Michael Durr transferred from Indiana and Lahat Thioune played at Utah. This Knights bunch brings a boatload of college experience to the hardwood.

Three Keys for Ole Miss

Ole Miss also boasts a very good defense. With the way Coach Davis has constructed this team, this defensive prowess was expected and has delivered.

The Rebels rank in the 78th percentile in half court offense and the 84th percentile in man defense. While the UCF numbers may be a bit higher, strength of schedule proves to be a factor. According to Ken Pomeroy, Ole Miss has an adjusted efficiency margin (+0.82), and that is higher than UCF (-2.72).

1. Win the Physicality Game

When Ole Miss has been at its best this season, the Rebels have been able to wear opponents down. This largely takes place in long frustrating possessions (due to the defense) with Ole Miss creating second and third opportunities on the offensive end.

Coach Davis has consistently discussed rebounding throughout the year. UCF brings size to the table: Durr is 7-foot, 250 pounds, while Thioune is 6-foot-10 inches, 245 pounds. Taylor Hendricks is 6-foot-9 inches and 210 pounds in an athletic frame.

Ole Miss needs to dictate this part of the game. Getting second chances can provide opportunities for more points that could be at a premium. This comes to the depth of Ole Miss. Kermit has routinely been able to go 11 to 12 players deep — and the forward play of Jayveous McKinnis, Theo Akwuba, Jaemyn Brakefield, Robert Allen, and Malique Ewin is where it starts.

Don’t sleep on the wing play on the glass either. Myles Burns is ninth in the SEC in offensive rebounds per game. James White and Matthew Murrell have also been focus points of rebounding at their position.

2. Controlling Taylor Hendricks

Just based on the schedule thus far, this key point of Ole Miss routinely having to play a forward with an advanced skillset feels familiar. It happened against Stanford with Harrison Ingram and again versus Memphis with DeAndre Williams. Now it’s Taylor Hendricks.

As mentioned, Hendricks is the leading scorer for UCF and is used in a variety of ways that include on the perimeter and as a small ball center at times. His main styles of usage are spot-up (47% of the time) as his range goes beyond the three-point line, as a cutter (12.5%). Hendricks also does well in transition and averages a little fewer than two offensive rebounds per game.

Limiting this will create a lot more pressure on the UCF guards, Darius Johnson and CJ Kelly. This can force more spot-up shots on the perimeter and when this has happened thus far, Ole Miss has thrived.

In the Rebels’ seven wins this season, they have forced opponents to an average of 17.4 spot-up attempts per game. In the two losses on the year, that figure drops to 7.0 attempts.

3. Score from the Outside

Largely, Ole Miss has made its living on the inside this season. It’s their identity and it will be a large part of every game they play. However, the Rebels need to keep defenses from shrinking down to the paint. This can be a challenge as UCF has limited teams to 27% from three.

Ole Miss has quality shooters on the team as Matthew Murrell, Amaree Abram, TJ Caldwell, and James White come to mind. In the first five games of the season, the Rebels averaged 23.4 points from threes. In the last four, that number has dipped to 11.25 points. In that spell, Ole Miss wasn’t able to eclipse any higher than 15.0, while in the initial five-game stretch, there was no game that fell below 20.0 points per game.

As we inch closer to SEC play, it will be interesting to see if there are any new sets that have been added to Kermit Davis’ playbook.

Game info

Ole Miss and UCF tip off at 6:30 p.m. in the SJB Pavilion in Oxford. The game will stream on SECN+.

(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss)

TJ Oxley

TJ Oxley

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.

About The Author

TJ Oxley

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.

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