Ole Miss basketball coach Kermit Davis earned his 500th win as a coach when the Rebels defeated South Carolina 84-70 in Oxford on Wednesday. Ole Miss has had little to celebrate during this disappointing season, but the milestone win could signal Davis’ potential to get the program back on track.
The victory puts the Mississippi native at a 31-24 record at Ole Miss after a surprisingly successful first year and a disappointing second.
“I couldn’t have done it at a better place. I’ve coached a lot of places but to do it at home, in Mississippi… to be able to coach at Ole Miss and do that,” Davis said after the game on Wednesday. “It was quite a grind to get to 500, as you guys well know, so hopefully it doesn’t take as long to get to 501.”
Davis’ short tenure at Ole Miss has been a roller coaster of expectations. Former head coach Andy Kennedy’s final year of disaster forced the program to shift to Davis, who was expected to slowly build back a respectable program and eventually raise the bar in the Pavillion, much like he did at Middle Tennessee.
The 2020 basketball season looked like the light at the end of the tunnel after the football program went stale, but it has turned into an extension of what has been an abysmal year for Ole Miss sports as a whole.
With such a drastic deviation from preseason expectations based on last year’s run, it is fair to give Kermit Davis a proper performance review in his year and a half in Oxford.
The Rebels came out of nowhere in 2019 to earn a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament, a complete turnaround from the dead last SEC finish in 2018. The team eventually got thumped by Oklahoma 95-72 in the first round, but fans were ready to see what was to come after Davis turned around a team he did not recruit in a single year.
That feeling of anticipation around the Pavilion seems like a long time ago as the team sits at 11-11 and 2-7 in the SEC, racing Vanderbilt to the bottom of the standings.
A look back at the 2019 season reveals that just about everything went right for the Davis and Rebels. Terence Davis turned into a legitimate NBA prospect after an awful junior year. Breein Tyree was morphing into one of the most feared scorers in the league. Devontae Shuler effectively ran the offense with little time to learn how to be an on-ball guard. Blake Hinson and K.J. Buffen were the most consistently impressive freshmen in the league.
The victory on Wednesday shows what this team could look like with everything working perfectly — just like it was last season. With the lack of depth on the roster, though, there is no way the Rebels can keep up with the competition night in and night out.
Even with that lack of depth, Davis has not adjusted his in-game substitutions. When a player makes a mistake early in the game, there is a solid chance you can see Davis pointing at someone on the bench to immediately replace that player.
That substitution puts someone who gives the team a better chance to win on the sideline, while the person on the court is simply not ready to play. It’s hard to work through a slump on the bench, and it’s hard to play with confidence while looking over your shoulder.
Still, Davis should be commended for keeping the team focused. Even with half of the roster being ineffective because of poor evaluation and development, the Rebels continue to fight every night. That is a good sign as Davis starts to process this roster and tailor it to his liking after this season.
Kermit Davis has defied expectations in both of his seasons in Oxford, and even though it’s ugly now, Davis’ 500th win should bring optimism for the future of Ole Miss basketball.