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Seeking winning formula, Ole Miss hosts Missouri Tuesday night

Seeking winning formula, Ole Miss hosts Missouri Tuesday night

OXFORD, Miss. — The Ole Miss basketball team is still searching for answers. After starting the year 6-0, the things have taken a turn and now the Rebels are nearing the back half of SEC play at the bottom looking up.

While viewpoints varied on this Ole Miss team to start the season, few thought this is where head coach Kermit Davis’ team would stand seven games into SEC play. The Rebels are currently 9-10 on the season with only one win in conference games.

In those seven league games, Ole Miss has found itself playing competitive basketball games but ultimately failing to manifest that into victories. Games against Georgia, Mississippi State, and Tennessee were all instances where Ole Miss was in a position to find a way to win — but it did not happen.

The team has had its fair share of adversity, not quite to the level of last year but still impactful. Guard Daeshun Ruffin is still getting healthy after injury. Robert Allen started the year recovering from a season-ending injury, and more recently Matthew Murrell suffered an apparent knee injury in the Arkansas game.

Indeed, Ole Miss’ season hasn’t gone according to plan. That leaves Coach Davis, his staff, and the roster searching for answers. All that being said, this Ole Miss team has not stopped competing. They’ll take another shot at finding the winning formula with Missouri coming to Oxford Tuesday night.

Who is Missouri?

Missouri (14-5) is looking to find a way to separate itself from the middle of the pack in the SEC. First-year SEC coach Dennis Gates has made quick work in creating the right culture for the Tigers’ program. They currently have three wins over top 25 opponents to date with wins against Illinois (neutral court) and home wins over Kentucky and Arkansas.

One area of intrigue with Missouri has been their away record. They’re only 1-3 on the road for the season. With a potential victory in Oxford, the Tigers could find themselves in the top half of the SEC.

When it comes to schematics, Missouri, like some other teams in the conference, plays with a different style than that of Ole Miss. According to KenPom, the Tigers have the tenth-best offensive efficiency in all of the NCAA. They also provide a tempo that ranks in the top 50.

The Synergy Sports Technologies numbers love Coach Gates’ team, as well. The Tigers have one of the best points-per-possession in all of college basketball at 0.997. Five Missouri players have individual points-per-possessions over 1.000 and the duo of Kobe Brown (1.137) and D’Moi Hodge (1.129) both rank in the 95th percentile.

Missouri has excelled offensively in finding ways to get its players in a position to succeed. They routinely find good offensive looks and look to score primarily from all three levels of the half-court.

The Tigers will take their fair share of threes. They’ve attempted the second most of any SEC team in conference play. D’Moi Hodge leads the way with 6.9 3PA.

The strength of this team comes from Kobe Brown who routinely finds himself in great positions to score. Teams have found success when they take away Brown’s ability to get high quality looks. In two recent losses to A&M and Arkansas, Brown combined to only get four high-quality shots (per Synergy Sports) and seven quality shots between the 20th and 80th percentiles.

Who is Ole Miss?

As Ole Miss fans know, the Rebels were built with defense and rebounding in mind. For the most part, the Rebels have lived up to that. They still rank in the 78th percentile defensively and have managed to keep teams to an effective field goal percentage of 46.2%.

Ole Miss has used a variety of different lineups and adjustments in hopes of success as the Rebels try to find some more offensive fire power. To date, Ole Miss has tried out ten different starting rotations.

The searching has led the Rebels to a 9-10 overall record and the 1-6 record in SEC play. The brightest spot for Ole Miss has been the play of Matthew Murrell, who has taken on a heavy usage on both the offensive and defensive end.

Murrell suffered an injury in the game at Arkansas, and his status for tonight’s game is still listed as a “game-time” decision.

Murrell who has seen a huge uptick in usage (offensively looking for shots/defensively guarding opposition’s best perimeter players) has found a decrease in his shooting slashes. Jaemyn Brakefield has provided a consistent scoring option while being second in the team at 8.9 points per game. The Mississippi native has the highest points-per-possession on the roster at 1.037 while maintaining an effective FG% of 60.2.

Defensively, Ole Miss has found ways to keep itself in games by using a variety of different looks to keep teams from finding their way into the paint. On shots from 17+ feet out, teams have only been hovering around the 31-32% mark against this Rebel defense. On the year, there has been plenty of rather large droughts that
Coach Davis’ defense has caused.

Get Back to Who You Are

Many will go quickly to the offensive woes for Ole Miss as a main reason for the season’s struggles. While the 0.844 points per possession does sting, one thing to note is that Ole Miss has also fallen away from its identity in conference play. The Rebels wanted to wear teams down with their depth and physicality on the glass, and early on in the year they found success in that.

As conference play started, however, Ole Miss has seen some dip in its rebounding production. Coach Davis has discussed his team’s physicality before, and now is a great time to get back to it.

The Rebels dominated the glass early on, and it helped them on the way to that 6-0 start. Ole Miss still found second chances later on in the non-conference slate; however, in conference play their average number of offensive rebounds have dipped from a current 11.8 average to 6.7 in conference play.

While Missouri’s offense has been impressive, the Tigers’ rebounding in conference play has been a cause for concern for them. Mizzou has given up an average of 38.9 (13th in SEC) rebounds in SEC play, including 11.6 on the offensive end.

If there was a game for Ole Miss to find that mojo back physically, this would be it.

Utilize Your Roll Man

The area where Missouri’s defense gives up the most points per possession is to roll men. Teams haven’t found ways to get the look very often, but when they do it’s highly effective.

Ole Miss has heavily used pick and roll concepts this season. The Rebels have taken 203 FG attempts from the handler of the pick and roll set. They have hit the roll man for only 35 attempts.

The roll men normally have been one of Brakefield, McKinnis, and Akwuba. Ole Miss has a 61.4% effective FG% on attempts by the roll man. Mizzou allows teams to shoot over 56% on the rolls. Ole Miss would be wise to find ways to make this a higher part of their offensive gameplan.

Limit Free Throws

Dennis Gates’ team excels at getting to the line. Ole Miss’ goal will be to keep this game as low scoring — in the 60s — as possible. The defense can cause the droughts to make that happen. It has happened in prior games.

One way teams have found points against Ole Miss, though, is giving up the free ones. In conference play, the Rebels have seen an increase in the number of free throws taken from the other team. The current average for the season has Ole Miss conceding 16.3 FTA per game. In conference play that number has increased to 20.4 FTA per game.

Mizzou has made more free throws than any other team in the conference, and the Tigers get to the line an average of 25.0 times in SEC play. If Ole Miss wants to stay in this one, the Rebs have to play a disciplined game and limit any easy points going against them.

Intriguing Info

When looking at analytics, sometimes one finds some intriguing information. When comparing the two guards on the Ole Miss roster, I noticed something interesting. To help paint a picture of what that was, let’s do a quick blind resume.

Player A: 24 possessions and runner attempts, converting at a 41.7% rate (+0.19 SSM) – 25 rim possessions, 21 rim attempts converting at a 61.9% rate (+0.16 SSM)

Player B: 17 possessions 12 attempts, converting at a 50.0% rate (+.33 SSM) – 37 rim possessions, 33 attempts converting at a 45.5% rate (-0.09 SSM)

While some of you may be thinking on who player A and B are, I want to highlight how these translate to the contest against Missouri. The Tigers are allowing teams to shoot over 56% at the rim this year. They also rank in the 5th percentile in all of college basketball allowing teams to score 0.989 points per possession on runners.

Let me go ahead and reveal which player is which. Player A is Amaree Abram. Player B is Daeshun Ruffin.

While no secret that Ruffin has been playing his way back off of injury this year and is recently recovering from an illness, the statistics still show some intriguing things. Both players have a knack for finding a way inside the perimeter: Abram as a very vertical downhill style to blow by opponents, while Ruffin is shiftier and creates separation with his body and dribble moves.

Just looking at how he each player has fared so far, maybe Abram and Ruffin could look to emulate the other in finding shot attempts, as Ruffin has a really good conversion rate on runners while Abram has fared better near the rim. The more you know, as they say.

Game info:

Ole Miss and Missouri tip off at 6:00 p.m. in the SJB Pavilion at Ole Miss. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.

(Feature image credit: Kiana Dale, Ole Miss)

TJ Oxley
TJ Oxley

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.

About The Author

TJ Oxley

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.

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