#29 Mississippi 2019-20 Preview

-Jim Root

Key Returners: Breein Tyree, Devontae Shuler, Blake Hinson, KJ Buffen
Key Losses:
Terence Davis, Bruce Stevens, Dominik Olejniczak
Key Newcomers:
Bryce Williams (JUCO), Khadim Sy (JUCO), Antavion Collum, Sammy Hunter, Austin Crowley


Outlook: Welcome to the SEC, Kermit! In his first year at the helm in Oxford, he led the Rebels to an 8-win improvement over the prior year en route to something that Mississippi fans had not seen since 2001: wearing home jerseys in Round 1 of the NCAA Tournament (8 seed or better). Unfortunately, their Oklahoma opponents had collectively doused themselves in kerosene before that game, and the Rebels were blitzed out of the tournament before they could even blink. Still, though, the year was a clear success after Andy Kennedy’s reign of mediocrity, and Mississippi returns a strong core capable of earning a second straight invitation to the Big Dance.

The heart of last year’s team was its tremendous three-headed back court, and although Terence Davis has moved onto the professional realm, that should be the case again this year. Breein Tyree is one of the more underrated players nationally, an efficient scorer and creator who was often overshadowed by Davis last year. Fellow returner Devontae Shuler had an impressive campaign of his own, and while he’s the more defensive-minded of the pair, both he and Tyree seemed to benefit from their new coach’s system. That benefit was felt on the scoreboard, with the Rebels clearly being a better team when the two 6’2 guards shared the court:

Recognizing the strengths of his roster, Kermit Davis installed one of the most pick-and-roll-heavy schemes in the country, allowing all three of his guards to spend time with the ball in their hands. Shuler, Tyree, and Davis all finished with an assist rate of 17.0% or higher, with each ranking in the top 22 in the SEC in that category. This varied attack made them difficult to prepare for, as so few college basketball teams have two or even three shutdown perimeter defenders, meaning the Rebels could pinpoint weaknesses and exploit them. They should have a third guard weapon once again, too: JUCO transfer Bryce Williams was a versatile threat for Daytona State, one of the better national programs, including shooting 45% from deep and chipping in 4.4 assists per game. That fits perfectly alongside Tyree and Shuler, once again giving Kermit a three-headed monster that can shoot and attack closeouts. If freshman Austin Crowley, a lanky 6’6 combo guard, proves ready to play immediately, Ole Miss will even have more depth than last year, as well.

Last summer’s late recruiting win for Blake Hinson helped the offensive ceiling. He’s a big combo forward (6’7, 230 pounds) that stretches the floor with a smooth outside shot while also having the size to battle with bigs on the defensive end. Given his stature, it’d be nice to see him improve on the defensive glass, though (his rebound rate was lower than the 6’2, 190-lb. Shuler’s).

The offensive end was clearly not the problem for last year’s Mississippi squad, and no game made that more clear than the utter demolition suffered in the NCAA Tournament at the hands of Oklahoma. The Sooners scored a blistering 1.40 points per possession (1.48 before garbage time), scoring at will from anywhere and everywhere against a Rebel defense that simply had no answers. Davis cycled desperately through his various looks – man-to-man, 2-3 zone, a trapping 1-3-1 in an effort to generate more turnovers – to no avail. Opposing shooters burned Ole Miss all year, knocking down 37.4% of their threes (320th in the country), and while some of that is “bad luck,” it’s still a testament to the quality of shot teams could get against them.

Davis (the coach, not the former player) hopes he’s found a partial solution to that. Another Daytona State JUCO product, Khadim Sy, is capable of anchoring a defense in the paint, which would allow the Rebel guards to extend further out on the perimeter. Last year’s best shot-blocker, Dom Olejniczak, was often exposed due to his lack of foot speed; Sy has the mobility to at least compete in space. He began his career at Virginia Tech, starting 28 games there as a freshman in 2016-17, and along with sophomore KJ Buffen and freshman Sammy Hunter, he’ll hope to boost the Rebels’ rebounding into more respectable territory.

Bottom Line: The Rebels are not a popular pick to be ranked next year, garnering zero votes in the consensus top 25 assembled by Bart Torvik on June 6th, but we have faith in both Kermit Davis and the roster he’s assembled. Sy brings an entirely new element to a team that lacked a real paint presence last year, and the offensive firepower around focal point Tyree should keep the offense in the SEC’s top half (or better). The swing stat will likely be how Ole Miss defends the three-point line: if they continue to give up open shots at an alarming rate, the deep and talented SEC will punish them. Davis needs to pull the right strings on that end, but if he does, the Rebels will have a shot at redemption come tournament time.