The Cats are fresh off a bludgeoning delivered by Tennessee and they’ll be heading out on the road for the final time this season. Awaiting them is a team that should be NCAA Tournament bound and could potentially be UK’s Friday opponent next week at the SEC Tournament in Nashville.
Under first year head coach Kermit Davis, the Rebels have easily exceeded expectations. Ole Miss is set to record a 20-win season and just their ninth NCAA Tournament bid in program history. The guard oriented lineup will present some unique challenges for a Kentucky team that will likely be playing without Reid Travis for the fourth consecutive game.
Nuts and Bolts
Kermit Davis played point guard at Mississippi State in the early 80s before getting his start in coaching. After a successful run at Idaho that included 50 wins and two NCAA Tournament appearances, Davis would take a job at Texas A&M. There he found himself in some hot water.
After going just 8-21 in his first season there in 1990-1991, Davis got caught committing rules violations that placed the Aggies on probation for two seasons and gave Davis a two-year show cause. Davis would have a long rocky road to become a head coach at a power conference school.
After a short run in junior college, Davis was an assistant at Utah State before taking the Idaho head coaching job for one season. From Moscow he took an assistant role at LSU to work under John Brady from 1997-2002. From there he would be hired to run the program at Middle Tennessee.
Davis would spend 16 seasons in Murfreesboro. There he collected 332 wins, 5 conference titles, and 3 NCAA Tournament bids. At the age of 58 he would finally get the chance to run a power conference program.
After a 12-year stint by Andy Kennedy in Oxford that recorded 245 wins, 2 NCAA Tournament appearances, and an SEC Tournament title it was time for a change. Athletic director Ross Bjork decided to bring Kermit Davis back to The Magnolia State. So far it’s looking like an excellent decision.
The seasoned head coach has invigorated this program and had the Rebels in the top 25 for two weeks in January. Ole Miss is set to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament after the media picked them to finish in last place in the conference during the preseason. You could easily make the case that Davis deserves to be the SEC coach of the year.
Under Davis, the Rebels a have a perimeter oriented offense. Ole Miss wants to spread the court and attack opposing defenses with multiple ball screen actions. They thrive off the dribble drive and have two guards who really make stuff happen off the bounce. On the other end, the Rebels primarily play man but Davis loves to use a 1-3-1 zone. They put length up top and then look for traps on the sidelines. This will be a defense UK has not seen since Louisville ran it back in December.
Out in the desert, Kentucky is a 5-point favorite with a total of 140.5. That’s a projected final score around 73-68. The Wildcats are 15-13-1 against the spread while the Rebels are a very robust 21-8. Ole Miss has been one of the biggest overachievers this season and that was present in their 14-1 record against the number to start the season. In their last eight games, the under is 7-1 when Ole Miss takes the floor. In their last nine games, the under is 8-1 when Kentucky takes the floor.
Kermit Davis inherited a nice one-two punch on the perimeter from Andy Kennedy and the two upperclassmen guards have been very, very good for the Rebels this season. Ole Miss doesn’t have much size, but they make up for it with a nice blend of playmaking and shot making ability.
After putting up 10.8 points per game on a 39.4 percent shooting clip, Breein Tyree’s efficiency has taken a large step forward in the new system. The junior combo guard from New Jersey leads the Rebs in scoring at 18.5 points per game and is shooting over 48 percent from the field.
The 6-foot-2 guard has made 64 threes on a 40 percent shooting clip in addition to getting to the line 137 times. He’s a score first point guard.
Joining Tyree in the back is senior Terence Davis who has some crazy athleticism in a 6-foot-4 frame.
Oh, yeah. Terence Davis had one of the best dunks this year and now the entire city of Knoxville is his. Rules are rules. pic.twitter.com/5KIXQ388Xk
— Bobby Reagan (@BarstoolReags) February 28, 2019
The headband wearing combo guard led the team in scoring last season and has also seen his offensive inefficiency improve under Kermit Davis. The Southaven, Mississippi native is putting up 15.5 points per game and is shooting 37.8 percent from three on a high volume of attempts. He’s the team’s top assist man, leads the squad in rebounds, and is very solid on the defensive end.
The third starter in the backcourt is sophomore Devontate Shuler who is a combo guard just like Davis and Tyree. The South Carolina native is shooting over 38 percent from three and is averaging just under 10 points per game.
All three of these players play over 3o minutes per game and in a lot of ways are interchangeable. Each can run the offense or step away from the ball and play as a spot up shooter. They can all make plays off the bounce and Ole Miss will constantly be putting them in ball screen actions. This is an offense that thrives off of the dribble drive and their guards making things happen.
Ole Miss plays four players in the frontcourt for at least 19 minutes per game and each one plays an important role. Kermit Davis asks his bigs to do a lot of dirty work, but each of the pieces is given some freedom on offense. In this group, the Rebels have two freshmen who are going to have the chance to be excellent college basketball players.
Blake Hinson was a top-150 recruit in the class of 2018 and the Florida native has started 27 of 28 games for the Rebels. The 6-foot-7 wing plays mainly at the four for Ole Miss and he provides a perimeter shooting element. Fellow freshman KJ Buffen comes off the bench and the Georgia native plays an important defensive role. The 6-foot-7 forward has great length and he is excellent as the team’s top defender in their 1-3-1 zone.
At the five spot, senior Bruce Stevens starts for the Rebels and the former junior college player can also step away from the basket and has great size (6-foot-8, 252 pounds) to battle in the paint. Dominik Olejniczak comes off the bench for the Rebs and the 7-footer from Poland is very limited offensively. The five-man has had a lot of trouble in guarding without fouling.
Rebounding has been a major weakness for this group with the four frontcourt players averaging a combined 14.7 boards per game. That, obviously, is not good and should be something UK can take advantage of.
Keys to Victory
- Fresh off the humbling loss to Tennessee in Knoxville, the Wildcats are back on the road facing another challenge. Against an Ole Miss squad that doesn’t have much size on the interior this appears to be a good matchup for UK to get right. The Rebels are one of the worst rebounding teams in the conference on both sides of the floor while UK is one of the league’s best. UK’s size inside and ability to get paint points should be a big advantage for the Wildcats.
- After a really down game, Kentucky needs a bounce back performance from Ashton Hagans. The freshman guard is facing another tough challenge against a talented trio of combo guards. Kentucky needs Hagans to snap out of this funk that he’s in and make aggressive plays on offense. Against a similar opponent in Auburn, Hagans played two of his better games of the season.
- Kentucky has not seen a 1-3-1 zone since the road win in Louisville, but tonight they’re going to get a heavy dose of it. Against the zone, UK will need to attack the gaps and take advantage of the corner jumpers they will get. Good passes will be key and it’s a great opportunity for Nick Richards. The 1-3-1 wants you to throw lobs and the big sophomore could have a career day if UK is able to execute. Ole Miss also has the worst three-point shooting defense in the SEC and some of this has to do with the open looks they’re willing to give up in the zone.