The Ole Miss Rebels are back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years. This
time, they have the SEC Coach of the Year and their highest seed in the Big Dance since the No. 3-seeded 2001 squad. Despite all this, the Rebels come into the first round with minimal momentum.
Ole Miss has lost four of its last five contests in heartbreaking fashion, including the last
outing against Alabama in the second round of the SEC Tournament. The Rebels blew a 14-point halftime lead in that game and saw their dynamic guard tandem of Terence Davis and Breein Tyree struggle mightily. Now, they start with a clean slate as they prepare for the 9-seed Oklahoma Sooners out of a deep Big 12 conference.
The Sooners, like Ole Miss, are in a slump, but theirs is bigger. Oklahoma has lost eight of its last 12 games, including a first-round loss in the Big 12 Tournament. A lot of success has come from their four- and five-spots, Brady Manek and Kristian Doolittle. Senior guard Christian James has been a big success, leading the team with 14.4 points per game. He is looking for one more deep tournament run after going all the way to the Final Four as a freshman.
Here are five things to expect from Friday’s first-round matchup:
- Ole Miss can attack the basket and get to the charity stripe.
Last week, Ole Miss only went to the free-throw line twice. The team has frustrated opponents all year long by getting to the free-throw line and, more importantly, by capitalizing on that opportunity. Ole Miss is tied for third in the country in free-throw percentage at 78 percent. This includes Ole Miss players like Bruce Stevens and Dominik Olejniczak, not just the guards. Stevens has been solid the past couple of games and has a great opportunity for another good performance.
2) Shuler should be fed often.
What Terence Davis and Breein Tyree can do on a frequent basis for the Rebels is no secret. Together, they have carried a big workload in order for Ole Miss to get to this point, but they were not able to get anything going in their last outing. However, they had a bright spot in that game and in their regular season finale against Missouri who can help them out here: Devontae Shuler. He has stepped up greatly when his team needed it most. His ball movement and shiftiness create for a matchup nightmare. Look for Kermit Davis to have him more involved in the offense.
3) Oklahoma will do damage in the paint offensively.
This is Oklahoma’s bread and butter. Manek and Doolittle both average double figures in point totals, and this is the main reason. There may not be a reason for them to back down from that now, especially considering Ole Miss’s struggles defending near the basket. This especially hurt Ole Miss against Tennessee and Kentucky and in the SEC Tournament.
4) Oklahoma will key heavily on Ole Miss guards.
On the flip side, the Rebels thrive on outstanding guard play. They like to start moving the ball at the top of the key and to get defenders to blow assignments, as a result of being all clumped up together, before smashing them with easy baskets. They also have a knack for traps and for forcing bad passes. Oklahoma will likely try to beat Ole Miss at its own game. In order to halt the offensive flow of the Rebels, Oklahoma will have to go to the source. Look for Oklahoma to be aggressive defensively early in the possession to disrupt the Rebels’ plan before it can even begin.
5) Ole Miss gets Oklahoma in foul trouble early.
As good as Oklahoma has it with its forwards, the team lacks depth in that area. That is perhaps one of the biggest advantages Ole Miss has in this game.
Tipoff is set for 11:40 a.m. on TruTV.