Auburn’s road to defending their SEC Championship begins tomorrow night in Oxford, Mississippi. Ole Miss has been one of the year’s biggest surprises in the SEC so far. For a better understanding of the Rebels, One Man to Beat from Red Cup Rebellion joins us to discuss the state of Ole Miss Basketball. My thanks go out to the good folks from Red Cup Rebellion for making this Q&A possible.
1. Ole Miss hit the jackpot last offseason when they were able to bring in Kermit Davis to replace Andy Kennedy as the head man in Oxford. How has the transition been from Andy Kennedy to Kermit Davis? What seems to be the attitude around the program now?
“Andy Kennedy’s biggest loss before his final season was when he lost Bill Armstrong to LSU. Armstrong as far as I know was the good cop to AK’s bad cop if you will. He was the one who really held the team together year after year in the locker room. AK is a good coach, no doubt about it, you have to be to last as long as he did in Oxford, but to me, any time a team seems to crumble in the big moment regularly, it’s because their coach doesn’t connect with them or they don’t trust him. Kermit seems to have come in and earned some trust pretty quickly, and I think he’s more of a players’ coach. There’s just a lot of wait and see around the program right now, but the win over Vanderbilt turned some heads. If Kermit can log a top 25 win or get a NIT or NCAA bid, then things might start to come together more for him in terms of support.”
2. As a follow up question to that, many picked Ole Miss to finish last in the league this year, Ole Miss has been one of the bigger surprises so far in the SEC and have the potential to make some noise in the SEC. What’s made this team so successful in Year 1 of the Kermit Davis era?
“The defensive intensity of this team has been night and day difference from last season. The 1-3-1 is new to Ole Miss, and it seems to be causing more turnovers leading to quick offense on the other end. We’ve had talented guards for the last decade under AK, and Kermit is pretty much working with what he has right now. I think when he has better bigs, he’ll be able to do more of what he wants.”
3. While Auburn has one of the best backcourts in the SEC in Jared Harper and Bryce Brown, Ole Miss also has a really good backcourt as well in Breein Tyree and Terence Davis. Tyree’s coming off a career high night of 31 points in their win at Vanderbilt. Talk about these guys and how they have evolved over the past year.
“I watched TD play in high school, and he was always the most athletic kid on the court but super raw. This was because he’d play football until the last game, then switch to basketball after they had already been playing for a month. When Ole Miss got him, I thought he’d have a chance to be a role player by senior year. What TD did instead was really develop a better outside shot to go along with his athleticism, and he’s become one of the leaders on the team over the last year. Tyree had a slow first year because of some injury issue, but last year he showed some good hops and explosion on the dribble drive. His outside shot has come along more this year, but I think in both cases, these guys are getting better looks due to better ball movement.”
4. While we have focused solely on the backcourt, how do you see Ole Miss’s frontcourt matching up against the depth of Auburn’s?
“Not very well. Bruce Stevens is a JC transfer with one year of experience and is still needing work to play consistently. Dominick Olejniczak doesn’t have great hands, but you can’t teach someone to be seven feet tall. Unfortunately, Dom isn’t some physically dominant big, and he wants to play more like a Dirk Nowitzki role in my opinion. I think that was AK’s pitch to him - volume scoring, wide open offense and let him shoot more. Kermit wants him dropping sky hooks from 4 feet out, because that’s what he does much better. Freshmen KJ Buffen and Blake Hinson have been a little surprising in the number of minutes/production they’ve had so far, but SEC play will be a big test.”
5. Is there one player on the roster who tends to fly under the radar that Auburn fans should know about?
“Devontae Shuler. He was our underrated MVP in the pre-season. Defensively, he has been the most consistent guard we have, and his passing ability has really been on showcase this year. I feel like every game he gets off an alley oop to Stevens or Dom, and I don’t always see it coming.”
6. I’ll be honest this game worries me a lot more than it did at the start of the season. With a chance to make a statement in the SEC, how do you see this game playing out? Do you have a score prediction?
“I really wish this game was a month from now. We have almost no students on campus, so it’s not going to be as rowdy of an atmosphere as it could be. Ole Miss is undefeated at home so far, but Auburn will undoubtedly be the best team we have played at home this year by a very large margin. I don’t think most Ole Miss fans are expecting a win on Wednesday, and I’d be ecstatic if they could pull it off. Usually in those kinds of scenarios, we don’t win, so I’ll say Auburn by 8.”