I don’t really know how you start the game preview after you lose on a foul in a tied game with 0.6 seconds left, so whatever. Ole Miss has eight NCAA Tournament appearances all time. They have made the Sweet Sixteen once, in 2001, under Rod Barnes. Rod Barnes never won another game in the NCAA Tournament. They had Marshall Henderson for a while and he made Andy Kennedy look like a not-bad coach. Then Henderson left, and it was revealed yet again that Kennedy was just okay. Now they have a real coach in Kermit Davis! Good for them.
For the first two-ish weeks of the New Year, it looked like Ole Miss could end up being Tennessee’s toughest non-Kentucky competition in the SEC. They went 10-2 in non-conference, picking up a win over exactly one NCAA Tournament team (Baylor). Then they started 3-0 in the SEC, with wins over Auburn and Mississippi State. Kermit Davis was the runaway SEC Coach of the Year.
And then regression to the mean struck and they’re 6-5 since. It is what it is. They’re #44 in KenPom, which makes this the second-best team of the last 15 years at Ole Miss. Even the 2000-01 team that made the Sweet Sixteen only rates out as #24, which indicates they were fortunate to get that far. Considering the fact that Ole Miss’ basketball culture has less historic success than every other school in the SEC, Kermit Davis should probably still be Coach of the Year. He will get precisely zero votes.
WHAT THEY BRING
A very good, unusually well-rounded shooting offense
Well, it’s probably not what you wanted to hear. Ole Miss makes 67.3% of their shots at the rim (19th-best nationally), 38.9% of their non-rim twos (70th), and 36.5% of threes (82nd). None of those are bad rates by any means, and this goes without mentioning their 13th-best free throw percentage in the nation. Of the main seven-man rotation, five can shoot threes. They don’t get out in transition much, but when they do, you can expect them to take it straight to the rim:
43.3% of Ole Miss’ shots in transition come at the rim, versus 27.1% in half-court offense. That’s not terribly surprising – if you steal a ball, the odds are higher that you just go the rim – but it’s pretty rare that you see that wide of a gap, especially considering they hit 65.3% of their rim twos in half-court.
This comes almost entirely at the expense of non-rim twos. Just 16.9% of their transition shots are two-pointers not at the rim, versus 33.8% in half-court. Their three-point rate stays the same throughout. Speaking of which…
LOTS of threes
Around 40% of Ole Miss shots will be from deep, and four of their top seven have a hit rate of 36.5% or better. So, uh, guard that perimeter. In order of shots made, Breein Tyree (60 of 150, 40%):
Terence Davis (51 of 134, 38.1%):
Devontae Shuler (40 of 105, 38.1%):
Blake Hinson (38 of 104, 36.5%):
And Bruce Stevens (21 of 66, 31.8%):
Ole Miss gets away with only having one rotation player taller than 6’8″ because they shoot this well. It’s also caused Bruce Stevens to play more minutes at center as part of a five-shooter lineup. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see this get a lot of run against Tennessee – maybe even a whole six minutes! – as part of an attempt to get Kyle Alexander out of the lane. Tennessee should immediately counter with five of Bone, Bowden, Turner, Pons, Johnson, Schofield, and Williams.
Before I forget, Ole Miss is marginally worse against the zone (around 0.03 PPP lower), which could be mildly interesting in this game. Auburn only ran two possessions of it against Ole Miss and the Rebels looked flustered:
Also, they don’t have any true mid-range killers quite like Tennessee has, but both Davis and Tyree are dangerous. Keep note, guards.
Pretty good at getting OREBs, not so good at preventing turnovers
Ole Miss ranks 64th nationally in OREB%, which isn’t nearly as high as Kentucky or LSU but still significant. Their first on-the-map win against Auburn came on a mediocre shooting night where they turned it over 17 times. They won because they got 13 offensive rebounds on 34 opportunities. This type of Shot Volume kept them in it against the best team they’ve played so far, Iowa State. ISU outshot Ole Miss by 34.4% on eFG%, the widest split I’ve seen in researching two good teams this year, but Ole Miss “only” lost by 14 because of plays like this:
Tennessee cannot suffer the Bigby-Williams humilation again, though Tennessee also did a really good job of keeping LSU off the boards for 40 minutes. (Too bad about the last five.) Ole Miss is 7-1 in game where they get a 35% OREB% or higher; they’re 12-7 in all others. Likewise, the Rebels are 9-2 in games where they post a 17% TO% or lower and 10-6 in others. They lost a very winnable road game to Florida in late January because of 17 turnovers. KJ Buffen, in particular, is very turnover-prone. So…force some turnovers for once.
Lots of P&R coming your way
As usual, anyone’s guess as to how Tennessee handles the pick-and-roll. I thought Tennessee largely did a great job against it for the first 34 minutes against LSU before breaking down completely in the final six. If you take that to say Tennessee (kinda, sorta) was about 85% successful against the pick-and-roll, well, I’d take it. If you focus on the 15% (or greater)…well, you should be concerned. No team spends more of their offensive time in the pick-and-roll in the SEC than Ole Miss, and they also happen to be the second-most efficient P&R team in the conference. This is a massive, massive proving grounds game for Jordan Bone and Lamonte Turner:
Transition defense is a disaster
Like impressively so. Synergy says Ole Miss gives up 0.265 PPP more (!!!) in transition than in half-court, which is a little extreme, but I’ll roll with it. It ranks in the 11th-percentile nationally, and they don’t force many turnovers out of it. You can get them at the rim, of course:
But you can also get them from deep. Opponents are 51 of 127 (40.2%) from three in transition against Ole Miss. Synergy doesn’t offer numbers for Guarded/Unguarded splits, but considering they already leave 51.3% of catch-and-shoots unguarded in half-court, you can assume it’s probably worse here. I’m sorry, but what is this?
Is that a 2-1-2 Over blitz? Fascinating. Ole Miss’ opponent eFG% drops dramatically with each second that runs off the clock, so this could be similar to the South Carolina and Missouri games in how much Tennessee should want to get the ball up court quick.
Forcing a ton of turnovers in half-court
Which is kind of funny, because Ole Miss spends around 27% of half-court possessions in a zone. They’re slightly better in zone than in man, but in both, they force a lot of turnovers. They’re especially good at stopping opponents on the pick-and-roll:
And also good at forcing post turnovers:
This won’t be a game where Tennessee can afford a lot of turnovers unless they force some on their end. If they’re at an equal or near-equal Shot Volume, Tennessee is going to have to score 80+ points to win this game.
Giving up a lot of threes, because they’re open
Hey, remember that 51.3% open shots number I just referenced? Well…
And that is how you lose a home game to a team you beat on the road a few weeks earlier. Only Southern Utah manages to be the fellow top 50 2PT defense team with a 3PT% in the 300s. Normally, I’d say that this would regress to a decent mean, because Ole Miss actually does a decent job of preventing three-point attempts, rating 94th in 3PA/FGA. Then again, most teams that limit opponent attempts that well actually guard the shots. Ole Miss ranks #334 in the nation in open catch-and-shoots on defense, which is why their three-point percentage allowed is so bad.
Now, to be fair, they’ve been really unlucky on guarded attempts (13th-percentile)…
But you leave yourself open to that if so many other shots are open.
The rim defense is horrific
I genuinely don’t get how this defense even ranks #55 on KenPom at the moment. (It’s 108th-best unadjusted for schedule.) Not only is Ole Miss giving up a high hit rate from deep, they also allow opponents to shoot 67.1% at the rim…which ranks 337th of 353 teams nationally. This isn’t even a transition vs. half-court thing, either – opponents are hitting at nearly the exact same rate no matter how much time is on the clock. And this is despite Ole Miss blocking 11.3% of rim attempts! I know they lost, but Auburn’s Chuma Okeke completely destroyed the Ole Miss interior any time he wanted to. He did it off of a spot-up:
Off of a cut:
And, yes, off of a rebound:
All told, Okeke had 23 points and went a perfect 6 of 6 at the rim. Auburn lost because of turnovers and an atrocious non-Okeke shooting night; it was nothing to do with Ole Miss rim defense. Other notables: Florida went 12 of 16 at the rim, Iowa State a PERFECT 16 of 16 (!), and LSU 14 of 18. I mean, holy crap, what more do you need?
But they’re strangely good at crushing mid-range attempts?
I…I don’t know, man. Ole Miss does block an above-average amount of mid-range twos (8.1%, 73rd-best), but they also block a good amount of rim attempts (11.3%, 124th) and that doesn’t help them at all. I think this might just be a luck thing – opponents are shooting 36.5% on two-point jumpers in transition while only shooting 28.5% in half-court. There’s barely any difference in rim defense, while three-pointers do make a small drop from 40.2% to 36%. It’s 540 attempts worth of a sample size, which makes it solid but still noisy. How about not taking 22 mid-range jumpers, just to leave the potential of this happening out of it?
Individual matchups to target
There’s only two of serious note this time. It’s not that Ole Miss is so good defensively that you can’t exploit that many players, but that most of them are so same-y they’re hard to truly distinguish. However, Blake Hinson (mostly plays PF) is a horrid jump shot defender that commits 4.6 fouls per 40 minutes and leaves open a lot of threes:
(This is where I’d like the small-ball lineup that forces Hinson to guard Schofield.) Devontae Shuler (combo guard, mostly SG) is allowing 69.2% of catch-and-shoots to go unguarded while ranking in the 22nd-percentile in rim defense:
So, uh, go after those two.
HOW TENNESSEE BEATS IT
I can’t make this any more obvious: GO TO THE RIM
You are playing the second-worst rim defense in the SEC. Iowa State went 16 of 16 at the rim against them. I do not know what more needs to be said. Since it seems you have to hand-hold certain players on this roster into doing so sometimes, you can go to the rim in transition (definitely do this):
You can let Grant do his thing on a drive to the rim (please do this):
And, hey, you can…let John Fulkerson drive to the rim and find a cutting Grant? Sure, just substitute the preferred player of your choice if you want:
I hate to be rude, but this isn’t that hard. If a team is truly wretched at rim defense – and it sure as heck appears like this one is – you take the ball to the rim. You drop the ball in the bucket. You can do this via a layup or a dunk. Maybe even a tip on a rebound! Who knows. The possibilities are endless. The possibilities do not usually mean “take 22 mid-range jumpers against a similarly bad rim defense last Saturday.”
The mid-range attempts are great when they fall…but this matchup probably isn’t one where they will
All my whining aside, Tennessee ranks as the second-best mid-range shooting team in America, behind Liberty. Tennessee is one of about nine teams in America where a mid-range shot doesn’t feel like an automatic defeat, which is cool. I do love to see a Grant Williams 14-footer and the Jordan Bone pull-up 12-footers and, hey, even Jordan Bowden makes them now.
But this is a particularly strange case where the Ole Miss defense seems to be just bizarrely great at stopping mid-range twos. Maybe it’s the zone they run; I couldn’t really tell. What I can tell is that shots like this suck:
I have broken my brain enough to enjoy the Tennessee mid-range twos, but I cannot enjoy a mid-range two with 23 seconds on the shot clock.
Ole Miss is a poor transition defense; Tennessee is an excellent transition offense
Ole Miss cannot defend in transition well at all, and they’re particularly prone to giving up open threes. Come on:
(Pusha T voice) Easy money.
Plenty of open threes to be had
Hey, you can get these in half-court, too! LSU actually had a pretty mediocre Guarded/Unguarded split against Tennessee Saturday (10 Guarded/10 Unguarded), and Tennessee somewhat took advantage. Against a worse perimeter defense, it would be lovely to see Tennessee work the ball out of the post like they’ve done in the past. I simply cannot get over the Grant Williams pass here:
How many post players in the last 20 years were able to make this pass? 30? 40?
Potentially plenty of OREBs to be had, too
I think by virtue of only having one rotation player taller than 6’8″, Ole Miss has struggled with defensive rebounding, ranking 264th nationally. I don’t feel like this is terribly surprising. Tennessee has some of the same issues, though, as mentioned, they stopped the bleeding for 40 minutes against LSU. The good news is that this sure appears to be a team Tennessee can take advantage of:
Ole Miss has gotten crushed on the boards by a few different teams. Alabama dropped a 47.6% OREB% on them, Mississippi State 40.5% and 40%, South Carolina 37.2%, Cincinnati 36.7%. In games where they’re allowing a 35% DREB% or greater, they’re 3-4; all others, 16-4. Behind just shooting the ball well, owning the boards is the quickest path to victory.
A great test to see if Tennessee’s awesome perimeter defense will last
It was quiet, but Tennessee had a pretty good defensive week. Had the game ended with six minutes to play, Tennessee would’ve held LSU to their second-worst offensive efficiency rating of the season. They held Vanderbilt to their worst of the season last Tuesday. In the meantime, they posted two straight games of phenomenal Guarded/Unguarded splits: 12/3 for Vandy, 11/4 for LSU. No wonder the two teams only shot 15 of 48 (31.3%) from three.
It’s just two games, but I was really encouraged by what I saw from Tennessee’s perimeter defense last week. It was the best two-game stretch they’ve had defending the three since early January. If this stays, Tennessee’s defense is in the process of being saved. Better hope it’s the new tenant:
Also a test to see if Tennessee’s rim defense gets back to normal
Tennessee allowed LSU to shoot 13 of 21 at the rim, their third-worst rate allowed in SEC play (Kentucky and Arkansas). On the season, Tennessee ranks as the seventh-best team in America at rim defense (51.6% hit rate by opponents), blocking 18.5% of shot attempts. When they’re on, they’re on:
And against LSU, they were still kind of on in some sense. Naz Reid, who I’d imagine most expected to have a good game, was held to 1 point and 0-9 shooting because Grant Williams cooked him defensively:
When the ball wasn’t running through LSU’s guards or Bigby-Williams wasn’t getting an offensive rebound, Tennessee almost entirely shut LSU down at the rim. When the going got tough late and the ball was forced into Ja’Vonte Smart’s hands…
Yeah, this cannot happen again. Jordan Bone didn’t play very well defensively in this game; he needs a rebound in this one.
Tennessee either needs to force turnovers or box out…or both
Worrisome still is Tennessee’s opponent shot volume. Again, the other top 10 KenPom teams:
- Virginia: 107.6 (national average 109.7)
- Gonzaga: 108.3
- Duke: 109.4
- North Carolina: 104.4
- Michigan: 106
- Texas Tech: 104.2
- Kentucky: 105.6
- Michigan State: 112.3
- Purdue: 107
- Tennessee: 111.7
Only Michigan State’s is worse, and they get bounced in the second round of the Tournament on a yearly basis now. If Tennessee is serious about a March run, they’ve got to limit opponent Shot Volume way better than this garbage:
Tennessee hasn’t forced a 20%+ outing in opponent TO% since West Virginia a month ago. If they don’t do it this week, I doubt they will the rest of the way. Please, force some turnovers:
Might be the game to experiment with a zone; definitely a game you’d want to slow down for Ole Miss
You’ve already read a lot of words, so I’ll keep it brief. It’s not that I want a full-time zone; I just think Tennessee should have a good one ready to deploy in the event of emergency. They do, but it’s worth trying for a few possessions against an Ole Miss team prone to settling for lots of jumpers. It worked some against Kentucky:
Also, slowing the game down in general is ideal. Ole Miss’ odds of scoring go down with each five-second chunk of the clock, per Stat House analytics. A press could work here, because it forces Ole Miss into half-court offense. Alternately, getting back and stuffing transition possessions before they get bad works for me:
The point: get back and make them run a real offense. Gives you more time to settle down and find ways to stop them. Big Ten basketball ain’t so bad after all!
- Four different starting lineups this year, but for the last two months, it’s almost always been Tyree/Shuler/Davis/Hinson/Olejniczak.
- The rotation only goes eight-deep, with Luis Rodriguez playing more than 10 minutes a game around once every month. DC Davis usually gets ~13 minutes a game, Buffen ~20, Stevens ~19, all from the bench.
- The most common lineup Ole Miss runs out replaces Hinson with Buffen at PF and Olejniczak with Stevens at C. You can call it their crunch-time lineup, I guess.
- Tyree has played just two sub-35 minute games in all of SEC play, so you’ll get a lot of him. Shuler has also played five straight games of 34+ minutes.
- Not sure if we can expect any lineup changes to start. If not, Bone/Turner/Schofield/Williams/Alexander.
- Which happens to be the least-effective five-man lineup in SEC play. The most effective has been Bone/Turner/Bowden/Schofield/Williams, which would be a fascinating matchup against Ole Miss’ smaller lineups.
- Jalen Johnson DNP’d on Saturday, which is stupid. It is statistically proven that Johnson has been better per-minute in SEC play than Yves Pons. Pons should still be playing, and I’m fairly comfortable with his 5-10 minutes per game as it stands. But Johnson should be getting 5-10 minutes a game as well.
- Derrick Walker has by far the worst plus/minus of any Tennessee player in 2018-19; I’d imagine this is why he won’t be playing much at all of this game.
Jordan Bone vs. Breein Tyree. The most obvious key matchup of all will be Bone figuring out how to stop Tyree in the pick-and-roll and how to limit his impact off the dribble. Tyree is an excellent shot creator, but so is Bone. A decent target here is to hold Tyree to 17 points or fewer; he averages 17.3 in losses and 18.9 in wins.
Admiral Schofield/Jordan Bowden vs. Terence Davis. Davis is a surprisingly good rebounder for his size, so it’s key that Schofield does everything he can to limit his impact on the boards. Bowden is a more ideal size matchup for Davis, but Bowden himself needs to snap out of the crap streak he’s been on for two weeks.
Lamonte Turner vs. Devontae Shuler. Besides sounding like strangely similar names in my head, they’re fairly similar players: Shuler loves a good three, he’s probably Ole Miss’ best perimeter defender when he’s into the game, and he’s become a good rim finisher after being less successful in the past. I see a lot of people smashing the Bowden panic button, but we’re close to it on Turner: he’s topped 10 points once since Texas A&M on February 2. Turner needs to lock in and play defense every minute he’s on the court; Tennessee is at its very best defensively when he’s focused.
Tennessee 80, Ole Miss 72.