Welcome to the 1-3-1, staff writer Griffin Neal’s weekly college basketball column. The title, “1-3-1,” is a hat tip to Kermit Davis’ defensive scheme but will also serve as the column’s section breakdown. Each week, the column will include one big idea regarding the college basketball landscape, three notes about Ole Miss hoops and one Ole Miss thing to look ahead to. Here’s to the beginning of jacked threes, bad officiating and five months of college basketball.
One National CBB thought
The first week of college basketball typically brings a few primetime marquee matchups, but for the most part, it serves as an opportunity for the blue bloods to beat up on smaller, less talented schools as sort of a tune-up for conference play. And, in fact, those beatdowns did occur.
NC State beat the Hawks of Maryland Eastern Shore, lead by a guy with the very real name of AJ Cheeseman, 95-49. But, to balance out the wearisome minutiae of November college basketball, the NCAA granted fans No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 10 Michigan State and No. 4 Duke vs No. 2 Kentucky. Kansas beat Michigan State by five, but the headlines came primarily from Kentucky and Duke.
Anticipation ahead of their matchup was unprecedented. The game featured seven freshman from the ESPN top-20 and five potential lottery picks. However, the contest was never close. Duke routed Kentucky 118-84, with freshman trio RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish posting a combined 83 points to nearly beat Kentucky on their own. Let me reiterate — the No. 2 team in the country put up 84 in a neutral site game and lost by 34 points.
Zion Williamson, the 6-foot-7-inch, 285-pound social media darling with a 40-inch vertical looks like the next coming of LeBron James. Seriously, though, Zion put up 28 points on 11-13 shooting and snatched a Nick Richards dunk attempt like it was a cookie on an insurmountably high shelf. Get ready for the Dukies to vaporize college basketball.
Three Ole Miss things
Defense wins championships, kind of. Not to suggest that Ole Miss is in any form contending for a national championship or much less an SEC title, but the defensive foundation Kermit Davis has begun to roll out is promising. In last Saturday’s matchup vs. Western Michigan, the Rebels forced 24 turnovers on 15 steals, leading to 39 points and one very awkward-looking Dominik Olejniczak breakaway dunk.
This team has depth. Although the competition wasn’t even close to league average, Davis trotted out ten different players in the first half against Western Michigan. Ole Miss only returned five starter/rotation guys, but the additions of KJ Buffen, Brian Halums and Blake Hinson look to be promising. Hinson flashed a sweet three point stroke early in the first half and Buffen’s court vision seems to be quite advanced for a teenager.
The bagmen are back. Kermit Davis’ 1st official recruiting class was announced Wednesday and Rivals.com has it ranked as No. 25 nationally. The class features three forwards who stand 6-foot-7-inches or taller, and Bryce Williams, a bouncy 6-foot-3-inch guard transferring in from Daytona State. If this season serves as the beginning of a rebuild, the foundation looks strong.
One Look Ahead
After starting the season 1-0, Ole Miss will travel to Indianapolis for a Friday night face-off with the Butler Bulldogs. If the win versus Western Michigan began the honeymoon phase of Kermit Davis’ tenure in Oxford, the matchup with Butler should prove as a fascinating litmus test for how good this team may or may not be. Far from the underdog, mid-major starlet they bust upon the scene as in their 2010 run to the national title game, the Bulldogs won 25 games in 2016 and 21 in 2017, entering the NCAA tournament as a No. 4 and No. 10 seed respectively.
Butler’s home arena, Hinkle Fieldhouse, is known as the “Cathedral of Indiana Basketball” and for good measure. They’ve won 45 straight non-conference home games, good for third in the country behind Duke and Arizona. All signs point to Butler opening as a massive favorite, but a win won’t necessarily be the harbinger of success. Should Ole Miss play disciplined, composed basketball, they’ll prove that predicting them to finish last in the SEC was a mistake.