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Ole Miss Looks to Get Ahead of New Goals on the Road Against Florida

Ole Miss Looks to Get Ahead of New Goals on the Road Against Florida

OXFORD, Miss. — A win against South Carolina this past Saturday could have done some good for the Ole Miss men’s basketball program. Head coach Kermit Davis’ team has not enjoyed the feeling of back-to-back wins since late November, 2022 in the ESPN Events Invitational. Here we are nearly three months later and the team essentially has found itself in quicksand.

When they finished the Siena game, the Rebels were were 6-0. The loss to Oklahoma in the final seemed rather insignificant as the Sooners looked the part of a tournament team (they did until February). However, that was when Ole Miss began to sink. Since that loss to Oklahoma, Ole Miss is 4-14.

When one gets caught in quicksand, he tries to do everything he can to find a way out. In the basketball sense, Ole Miss has done somewhat of the same. Coach Davis has searched for answers, the group changed the pace and tempo that it played with, and we have seen somewhere in the vicinity of 15 different starting lineups this season.

On Wednesday, the Rebels hit the road and try to find another way out when they take the court against the Gators. The group needs a win for their own sake — but Florida can’t afford a loss. This game gives Ole Miss a chance to play spoiler for a Gators group that is right on the bubble under first year head coach Todd Golden.

The Gators have had an up-and-down season. Currently sitting with a 13-12 record, Florida could use a strong stretch to to the finish line in order to have a good chance at finding the tournament. With a 6-6 record in the SEC, the Gators know what they need to do in order to make the playoffs.

Recently, Florida went through arguably one of the toughest stretches in college basketball this season when they faced three top-five teams in four games, while the fourth was a road game against Kentucky.

We spoke with Eric Fawcett of Gator Country to get his thoughts on Florida this season.

Florida’s season has been all about finding an identity in year one under Todd Golden. They found that identity on the defensive end where their structure has kept opponents out of the paint and kept themselves out of rotation, allowing them to contest three-point looks as well. Unfortunately, the offensive side of the ball has been a completely different story. Their continuity ball screen offense hasn’t been a great fit for their talent and it’s simplicity has made them easy to guard. While their defense has allowed them to play competitive games against quality competition their inability to create points has ultimately resulted in a disappointing season relative to the talent on the roster.

Eric Fawcett – Gator Country

So what do the Rebs need to do against the Gators?

Ole Miss will have to find a way to manage Colin Castleton. The big man has four straight, 20-point performances and is on his second streak of three straight games with 25 points or more. The only Florida Gator with four is Andy Owens who did back in 1969.

While Castleton is on a scoring tear, that doesn’t mean other facets of his game aren’t shining also. The big man is an anchor to a unit that averages 5.8 blocks per game and is top five nationally in that category. Castleton, himself, averages 3.0 blocks a game.

Other players to be aware of are Will Richard and Riley Kugel. Richard is a transfer from Belmont and is one of the most efficient scorers in college basketball with a points-per-possession rate of 1.106. He shoots 46% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc. Kugel is a talented player out of Orlando who has recently found himself in the starting lineup where he has shown strong flashes of potential stardom.

As a whole, the Gators bring a strong defensive identity to the court. As a team, they hold teams to 39.2% from the field and boast a unit that is 13th nationally in defensive efficiency. For Ole Miss to win, the Rebels have to match that defensive output finding ways to score.


To restate, Ole Miss is in basketball quicksand and the more the Rebels try to get out of it and gain some momentum, the more they’ve come to struggle. Coach Davis and his staff understand that and have now pivoted. Instead of looking for a way out, they’re looking to take a smaller step in the process.

Prior to the loss at South Carolina, Coach Davis discussed where the team is and what they want to accomplish. He is looking to scale things down and begin to try and work his team out.

We know we are capable. Our goal is to play on Thursday in Nashville. We’ve got a lot of hard work ahead of us.

Coach Davis

Now, for Ole Miss to find its way to Thursday without having to play Wednesday, the Rebels would need to find a way into the top 10 of the SEC. Chances are slimming as the Rebels are currently three wins behind the Georgia and Mississippi State who are vying for that 10th seed. With only six games left, Ole Miss really needs to find its stride if the Rebs want to accomplish that goal.

It’s no secret Ole Miss has struggled this year and, unfortunately, with this team the margin of error in games has been thin. Part of that goes to coaching, part of it to the intangibles. Coach Davis has taken responsibility for that a number of times this season, as he did after the loss to South Carolina.

“Effort was fine. It was good enough to win, it was just ineptness offensively,” Davis said after falling to the Gamecocks. “You have to keep scoring. You have to. I don’t care if it’s football, baseball…when I thought we had chances for us to increase the lead, we didn’t…I take all the blame for it. If we did, it would be 10, 14. We kept South Carolina in it and those guys did a good job.”

From a fan perspective, everyone wants to see a miraculous turnaround. They wanted to see it immediately after the loss to North Alabama, frankly. Fans want to see a 75+ point team that will dominate the glass, lock down the opposition, and will get quality offensive buckets.

For Ole Miss to gain some of that momentum, one could say it becomes about doing the little things to work on increasing that margin for error. There are a number of ways to do this, but in an observational sense, it seems the Rebs need to just work on maximizing their strengths and limiting their weaknesses. Instead of trying to change who they are, perhaps it might be better to embrace it and become the best version of it.

At its core, Ole Miss is a really good man defense team that can fill the court with individuals who can drive you deep in the shot clock, while also being able to get out and score in transition. So let’s dive into that a little bit more.

Earlier we mention how Ole Miss actually switched its tempo. They played a bit slower, especially when dealing with the injury to Matthew Murrell and lingering illness of Daeshun Ruffin. It has been well-documented in the past how much Coach Davis has wanted his Rebels to get out and run, but are they doing it enough?

By the numbers:

58.9% – The FG% that Ole Miss has on total transition possessions. That is second in the SEC.

16.4% – The percentage of possessions that are in transition by Ole Miss. That number is 6th in the SEC.

144 – Total number of transition possessions at the NCAA level.

64.2% – Effective FG% for Ole Miss in transition, which is second in the SEC.

The Rebels are a really good transition team — one of the best in the SEC and certainly in the top 20% of the NCAA. Yet taking a look at the recent games, you can see a pattern in how Ole Miss has fared when they have and have not had transition opportunities.

In the win recently over UGA, Ole Miss had 11 possessions in transition. In the win against South Carolina it was 13. In the loss against UGA it was 15 (62-58). In Saturday’s loss against South Carolina they had 13 (64-61). Earlier in the year against Tennessee, it was 13 (63-59).

Now take a look at some instances of games where the Rebels struggled to get those possessions. Against Vanderbilt, Ole Miss had 8 (71-74). Against Kentucky, they had 6 (75-66). Against Arkansas, they had 7 (57-69). There are certainly cases where Ole Miss gets the transition possessions and still loses decidedly. However, it was interesting to see how the games were more competitive when they did run the floor.

The Defense

Another point of note I’ve been following is how Ole Miss can stick to that defensive identity and roll out its best defensive lineup on teams. The Rebel defense won’t win them any games — but it will definitely keep them in games. The defense has been strong, especially the man to man defense, giving up an average points-per-possession number of 0.843.

Teams have shot an average 42.6% on Ole Miss this year. That figure is a little bit lower in the rankings at 145th in the NCAA. However, going through the numbers something felt off. Looking at some of the defensive players for this Ole Miss team, I noticed the Rebels have some really good defenders it could put on the floor together.

Let’s take a look at the five best Rebel defenders per opponents’ FG%.

Abram (31.0%)

Murrell (29.6%)

Caldwell (35.2%)

Brakefield (36.0%)

McKinnis (37.5%)

Now when adding up all the possessions that group has seen and putting it together, they keep opponents to 33.3% from the field. To compare that, I looked at the same with Tennessee’s best lineup as the Vols have one of the best defenses in the nation. Their group ended up at 30.5% from the field; the Rebels are in the same realm.

Ole Miss can again capitalize on a strength by utilizing their own version of a death lineup that is designed to keep teams from scoring.

Again, there are so many ways to go about this but the Rebels are looking for anything to get the momentum going in SEC play. Will they find it? No one yet knows? But if there is one thing that is noticeable with this group, despite its lack of success, the group goes out and hustles every single game. They come out, compete and play the game.

Up Next:

Ole Miss plays Florida Wednesday, February 15, and tip off is set for 5:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.

(Feature image credit: Ole Miss Athletics)

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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