The 9-seed Oklahoma Sooners face the 8-seed Ole Miss Rebels this Friday in Columbia, S.C., and here to talk about it is One Man To Beat of Red Cup Rebellion - SB Nation’s Ole Miss site. If you’re curious, here’s the Q&A we did over at their page.
Also, make sure to check out this week’s podcast in which we discuss the game with Zach Berry (also of RCR) and talk about the new world of OU defense under Alex Grinch.
Ole Miss has defeated some quality teams but seems to have been a bit inconsistent. What in particular has Ole Miss struggled with when things weren’t going well?
Ole Miss relies on its guards for a lot of things - points, ball handling and even rebounds. Our bigs are clearly a weak point, so when our guards aren’t clicking (see: SEC Tournament loss to Bama), we go from a cohesive team capable of playing with anyone in the country to very run of the mill. If Breein Tyree, Terence Davis and/or Devontae Shuler combine for 40 points or more, things are probably going well for the Rebels.
What’s been this team’s biggest area of strength throughout the season?
Offensive efficiency has been an area where the Rebels ranked in the top 30 nationally throughout the year. Coming from previous head coach Andy Kennedy, this squad used to be more volume scoring centered, but first year coach Kermit Davis has transformed this team to reduce turnovers, average more assists per basket scored and regulate tempo as needed to its opponents.
This team was picked to finish last in the SEC during the preseason, so in which particular areas of the game has this team surpassed expectations?
Honestly, I think preseason media picks for the SEC are always traditionally bad. Last season, they picked Tennessee near the bottom and were dead wrong. It’s more of a problem that SEC media doesn’t pay attention to basketball until December. Football provides the clicks and eyeballs for its websites unless you’re Big Blue Nation. I don’t think any member of the media considered that a 12-20 Ole Miss team from last season lost its head coach mid-season and played extremely uninspired ball for a couple months to close the season and the bar for expectations was significantly lowered due to that glazing over of the fact the team has some talent on it.
Guard Breein Tyree has been phenomenal this season. What makes his such a dangerous scoring threat?
Breein can blow past a lot of people one on one, not saying he is elite, but he is quick, causing defenders to not play too tight to him. He doesn’t need a lot of space to get off a shot due to his fairly quick release, and I think he’s ballsy when he needs to be. He doesn’t have a green light like fan favorite Marshall Henderson used to have, but it’s not far from it.
Outside of Tyree, who do Oklahoma fans need to know about heading into Saturday?
Terence Davis should probably be playing in the NFL by now. Dude is super athletic and can score the ball pretty well, but he is still a raw talent as a senior. If TD gets going, then this team can compete with anyone (see: 4 point loss to UK and 25 points by TD).
In his first season with the program, Kermit Davis has led Ole Miss to just its ninth NCAA tournament appearance. How thrilled are people with that hire at this point, and how hopeful is the future of Ole Miss basketball?
Fans have fully embraced the tea sipping Kermit meme. Pick our first-year coach last in the conference, all he does is finish tied for sixth and takes us to the tourney. Also he wins coach of the year in the SEC. He’s also a Mississippi native, and though he went to Mississippi State, it seems the fanbase has legitimately bought into the idea he can take the program to a more consistently better-than-average finish in college basketball.
As Oklahomans, we have to ask about the Bryce Drew buzzer beater, which occurred just a few miles from where I’m sitting. Is that basically your school’s equivalent of the Boise State statue of liberty play as far as trauma is concerned?
You know what? Karma done got Bryce Drew. 0-18 in the SEC, straight up reverse New England Patriots pre-Super Bowl. So I know they’ll show that highlight forever, and I’ll have to watch it forever. It’s numbing at this point, and I’m sure when you’re up late at night Google’ing what Ian Johnson is doing nowadays, it kind of makes you realize how crazy sports can make us sometimes right?
Back to happy thoughts -- what’s your favorite Ole Miss basketball memory?
For me, it’s the SEC Tournament title over Florida led by Marshall Henderson. The team was scrappy and had a pretty good season, but they HAD to win the tournament to get in. They did it with bravado, then went on to beat Wisconsin in the first round of the Big Dance. Henderson even did a “Gator Chomp” at half-court with Ole Miss up late against a Billy Donovan team. I, of course, immediately was proud and also fearful the sports gods would smite our team, but for once, the brashness and cockiness all worked in our favor. It was really a phenomenal and historic win.
What is Ole Miss going to have to do to win this game?
Ole Miss needs to get production from freshmen Blake Hinson and KJ Buffen. I think our guards are going to score some points, but the OU defense is going to do its damnedest to hold them in check. If some of our less consistent contributors come off the bench and get 10-12 points, it will go a very long way on Friday to a W.
What’s your score prediction?
I keep hearing OU’s defense is phenomenal, and I’m assuming Lon Kruger is going to keep the tempo slow and prevent fast breaks if at all possible as the Rebels are dangerous in transition. I don’t think he wants this to turn into a track meet, but I think the Rebels will have a decent shooting night and find enough holes in the Sooner defense to eek out a 4 or 5 point win. 68-63? Yeah, sure.
What’s your favorite bar in Oxford?
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, what a loaded question. Existing bars for me — I’m too old to go to the more popular ones, so I’d probably say upstairs at City Grocery or Snackbar. When I was a student there, we had a more dive-y bar called Murff’s that had pool, darts, etc. and a kickass patio/deck, but it turned into a piano bar because I can’t have nice things.
What do you hate most about LSU fans?
Do you ever get into an elevator and expect it to be a normal experience, but then it just smells like a combination of fried food, cigarettes, Old Bay seasoning and the person in the elevator is incredibly intoxicated and aggressive toward you while also being inherently racist and terrible? That’s like pretty much most of the bad encounters with one of the purple and gold faithful.
Can you eloquently describe the Grove for Oklahoma fans?
It’s a ten-acre tapestry of idiosyncrasies representing the happiness and glory of all things college football. Gathered beneath the shade of gazebo tents and the Grove’s storied oaks, Ole Miss fans convene year after year— bolstered by gregarious feasts and bacchanalia along with the burgeoning hope for a Rebel victory. Scattered throughout the red and blue congregation, you’ll find a steady stream of opposing fans and out-of-town visitors who didn’t make the trek to Oxford just to see a football game.
They’re here to take part in one of college football’s best traditions and one the Ole Miss faithful experiences only a handful of Saturdays each year— the greatest tailgate party, bar none, this side of heaven.