In his first season in Oxford, Rebel head coach Kermit Davis got Ole Miss back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. That should be worrisome for the rest of the SEC.
Kermit Davis is one of the best coaches in college basketball, he turned Middle Tennessee State into a mid major power and now he’s in a power five conference. And in even better news, Davis will have the league’s top returning scorer, Breein Tyree, at his disposal.
The Rebs may not have the talent to get finish in the SEC’s top four and get a double bye, but Ole Miss will definitely be that second tier team that nobody in the league can afford to look past. To get us better acquainted with the Rebels, I reached out to One Man to Beat, one of our pals over at Red Cup Rebellion.
1. Ole Miss was the surprise of the conference last season. Kermit Davis won 20 games and got the Rebels back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years. How does Davis and company build on last year’s success?
The Rebels have four of its top six scorers returning from last season including the leading returning scorer in the SEC in Breein Tyree. Devontae Shuler and Tyree should make for a solid backcourt after both tested the NBA draft waters in the offseason. Ole Miss also benefited from transfer Khadim Sy, previously at Virginia Tech, increasing the talent level in the front court. Sy and freshman Sammy Hunter should definitely push for a lot of playing time even though we’re returning forwards KJ Buffen and Blake Hinson who I’m assuming will both play more wing this season which would be a more natural fit for both.
2. The schedule looks pretty daunting. Ole Miss isn’t partaking in the Big 12/SEC Challenge but they will be in the NIT Season Tip-Off in Brooklyn where they open with Penn State and could play either Oklahoma State or Syracuse. Ole Miss also plays Memphis, Butler, Norfolk State and Wichita State prior to conference play beginning. And if all that wasn’t enough, the Rebels have to go to Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, LSU, A&M and Auburn. Ole Miss will have a chance to stockpile Quadrant 1 and 2 wins, but with this schedule could Kermit Davis’s crew be biting off more than they can chew?
The non-conference has a few challenges in there, but I think the Rebels could get through it with only a couple losses and be in good position for SEC play. I think we’re going to see potentially a transformative SEC this season with Buzz Williams and Eric Musselman at Texas A&M and Arkansas respectively. Georgia is going to get better after a terrible year last season, and Cuonzo Martin is going to potentially have Mizzou ready to challenge for a top four spot in my opinion. The conference has now gotten to a place where you can go 9-9 or 10-8 and make the NCAA Tournament, so this season will be like a lot of others - protect the home court in conference play, grab a couple road conference wins, blow through non-conference, and your team can be dancing come March.
3. Tell me about Breein Tyree. He’s the SEC’s leading returning scorer and was a 2018-19 First Team All-SEC selection. What can he do for an encore?
If Tyree puts up another season of double digit points per game, it will be a greater accomplishment this season than last season mainly due to the departure of Terance Davis. Tyree benefited I think from teams trying to keep Davis from going for 20 or more points, so he got some great opportunities from teams who weren’t defensively very deep. This year, I think teams will be keying on him and Shuler thinking that if they can stop those two, then Ole Miss won’t have consistent scoring threats on the roster. Tyree has some explosiveness and can get to the rim, but he hasn’t had to shoulder the load entirely in the past for every game. This season might be his biggest challenge yet, and if he answers it with 18-20 points per game, he’ll be in the running for player of the year in the conference, and Ole Miss will likely be back in the tournament.
4. I read on Red Cup Rebellion that Khadim Sy “has to be a dynamic center immediately.” What if he’s not, what’s Ole Miss’s Plan B? Is there one?
First off, thanks for reading. We rely on those LSU clicks to pay the bills. If Sy doesn’t work out, outside of Hunter who we mentioned earlier, we’re probably looking at freshman Shon Robinson who was the No. 85 player out of high school in the 2019 class. He’s 6’11” but will turn 18 right before the season starts, so he had to reclassify to 2019 to be on our roster this season. It’s likely he could be a little young for significant time. The other option is redshirt freshman Carlos Curry who stands at 6’11” and 235 lbs. and spent the last year just eating and lifting weights to be ready for this season.
5. What would constitute a successful basketball season in Oxford?
If this team gets to 20 wins, I would call it a successful season with the number of returning players we have from last year. Kermit Davis shocked everyone going 20-13 last season, and it’s likely to expect a step back in year two as teams adjust to playing against Davis. With that said, if he can replicate a similar record, then it’s a big win for him. Andy Kennedy won more than 20 games in his first two seasons, and then he posted 20-win seasons in nine of his 12 seasons in Oxford though against a less competitive SEC. I think the pressure to take the next step as a program will be on this coaching staff for the first few years, and if they can have back to back tournament appearances, the fans in Oxford will be ecstatic.