Published on March 20th, 2019 | by TLV News0
Predicting the Rebels’ NCAA Tournament Fate
On some levels, the 2018-19 season could already be considered a huge success for the Ole Miss Rebels. In their first season under Kermit Davis, the Rebels were pegged for a last-place finish in the SEC in the preseason.
That didn’t happen.
Kermit Davis Is Playing with House Money
The Rebels rolled to a 13-2 record out of the gate and wound up posting quality road and neutral-court wins over Baylor (78-70, neutral), Mississippi State (81-77, away), and even Auburn (60-55, away).
They finished the season with two wins over Auburn, the eventual SEC tournament champions, and a winning record in conference play (10-8).
Their performance saw them make the NCAA Tournament field with relative ease, garnering a #8 seed and a first-round matchup with #9 Oklahoma in the South.
But all is not necessarily well in Oxford.
Rebels Have Been Fading Since Mid-January
Since their road win over Hail State on January 12th, this team is just 6-9 overall. Their ranking at KenPom.com, which measures teams by their efficiency levels on offense and defense, dropped from as high as 30th all the way to 43rd entering March Madness.
Both the offense and defense showed cracks.
During a 1-5 stretch in late January, the defense disappeared. They gave up 80-plus points four times and averaged 80.3 points against per game. That’s a full ten points higher than their average for the year.
During a 2-5 stretch to close the season, it was the offense that went into hiding. The Rebels were held to just 69.4 PPG, six points lower than their season average (75.4 PPG).
Putting it bluntly, the team has looked closer to the pessimistic preseason projections for the better part of 2019.
Now for the Good News
The good news is that Ole Miss has still played some excellent games in the last two months.
Their second win over Auburn came in mid-February, and two of their most-recent setbacks were hyper-tight games against Tennessee (73-71) and Kentucky (80-76), both top-ten teams.
The other piece of good news is that they are facing an Oklahoma team that’s on its own downward trajectory.
After losing Trae Young to the NBA, the Sooners were expected to take a big step back this year. Yet, they roared to their own 11-1 start with wins over Wofford, Florida, Creighton, and a handful of other top-100 teams.
Since that time, they are a mere 8-12 with two concerning losses to West Virginia, a team that went 4-14 in the Big 12, plus five other double-digit setbacks.
The Sooners were held under 60 points in six games this year, including a brutal 77-47 loss to Baylor in late January.
How do Ole Miss and Oklahoma Stack Up against Each Other?
Let’s be clear. Both these teams are massive longshots to reach the Final Four. Whoever wins will likely have to face #1 Virginia in the second round. All UMBC jokes aside, the Cavaliers are the most efficient team in the history of the KenPom ratings right now (which date back to 2002).
It would take the game of the season from the Rebels to beat UVA. That’s part of the reason why their national championship odds are so long. Instead of searching for a site with the shortest possible odds for the team, this list of sportsbooks from SBD is enough to see just how long the odds really are. Going through each site on that list and comparing it to one another will show that there is not one that has the Rebels shorter than +20000 to win. It’s a little disappointing but not surprising.
But the Rebel faithful can have some confidence in their team in the Round of 64.
To start, the point spread favors Ole Miss (-1.5) even though KenPom predicts a one-point win for the Sooners. That’s a good sign. Sportsbooks don’t diverge from the KenPom predictions without good reason.
Secondly, between Breein Tyree (18.2 PPG) and Terence Davis (15.1 PPG), Ole Miss has the strong, veteran guard play that tends to succeed in March. Apart from a brutal effort in their SEC Tournament loss to Alabama, when they combined for just 10 points, the pair has been excellent in the biggest games.
Tyree averaged 17.7 PPG in nine games against Kentucky, Tennessee, LSU, Auburn, Mississippi State, Florida, and Iowa State. Davis was even better, posting 18.4 PPG in those same nine games, 3.3 points higher than his season average.
The last time Ole Miss was in the tournament (2015), it was Stefon Moody and Jarvis Summers leading the team. Together, they averaged 28.6 PPG and shot 31.4% from three. There’s just no argument that Tryee and Davis aren’t far superior, combining for 33.3 PPG and 37.7% from three.
On top of that, the Rebels are considerably better than Oklahoma in several key areas, including effective field-goal percentage (53.0% to 50.2%),three-point percentage (35.8% to 34.2%), offensive rebounding rate (30.4% to 26.2%), and free-throw percentage (78.2% to 69.1%).
It’s that discrepancy in free-throws that is perhaps most encouraging.
Ole Miss’ top-four scorers shoot nearly 82% from the stripe, combined, and that’s with Davis’ mediocre 77.8% included. Tryee, Devontae Shuler, and Bruce Stevens are all at 82.3% or higher.
By contrast, Oklahoma’s top-four scorers average just 76.3% from the line. Not one of them shoots better than 77.5%.
There is a very good chance that this is a one-possession game late and that free throws prove to be the difference. Advantage Rebels.
Ole Miss may not have an extended stay in the 2019 NCAA Tournament, but it should last into the weekend and cap off a tremendously encouraging first season for Kermit Davis in Oxford.