The Ole Miss basketball team went to Brooklyn over Thanksgiving break and came away with two wins and a Barclays Classic Championship. The Rebels knocked off Georgia Tech and Penn State in their first two matchups with teams from power conferences and flexed their defensive muscles, as they have all season.
Ole Miss is fourth in the Southeastern Conference and 36th in the NCAA in defensive points per possession allowing .91. They held Georgia Tech to 1.10 points per possession, below their season average, and they held Penn State to 1.12, also below their season average.
Georgia Tech came into the first game of the Barclays Classic with two of the most efficient post players in the country with Daniel Miller and Kammeon Holsey. But Ole Miss shut them down, as the two combined for just seven points on 2 of 6 shooting.
Ole Miss had held Georgia Tech to just .62 points per possession in the first half and 21 percent shooting. The Yellow Jackets boosted both of those numbers as they used a rally in the final two minutes to cut the Ole Miss lead from 20 to 10 when Ole Miss took its foot off of the pedal.
Georgia Tech ranks 220th in offensive points per possession this season, but Penn State went into the championship game with a top-20 offense — Ole Miss managed to slow them down enough to get the win.
Penn State, mainly D.J. Newbill, gave Ole Miss a lot of trouble as it knocked down threes (9 of 22) and took advantage of Ole Miss overplaying the three by slicing to the lane on the dribble.
But with a close game, Ole Miss shut the door defensively on Penn State. In the last three minutes, the Nittany Lions had 10 possessions, and they came away with just six points. Ole Miss used a familiar strategy to silence the Lions; they switched all ball screens.
Last year in the SEC Tournament, Ole Miss played phenomenal defense because it simply switched every ball screen and teams couldn’t take advantage of the mismatches like Marshall Henderson guarding Patric Young. Penn State found itself struggling to get to the lane or get uncontested jumpers when Ole Miss began using this same defensive strategy.
One aspect this defense has been phenomenal in is shot blocking. Ole Miss is fourth in the NCAA with 8.33 blocks per game. They are currently on pace for 258 blocked shots this year, which would obliterate the Ole Miss single-season record set last year at 185.
Leading the block parade is Aaron Jones. Jones is averaging three blocks per game, third in the SEC. He is on pace to get 93 blocks through the regular season. Assuming Ole Miss will play at least one game in the SEC Tournament and one game in a postseason tournament, Jones is on pace to get six more blocks, which would break Reggie Buckner’s record from last season of 98. No Rebel besides Buckner has gotten more than 60 blocks in a season.
Demarco Cox and Anthony Perez have been joining Jones in block swatting, averaging 1.33 blocks per game. Perez is the surprise of the group, as he had a total of five blocked shots all of last season but already has eight this year. He is 6-foot-9, and after a year of underutilizing his height, he is finally using it as an advantage.
The freshman post players are also getting in on the action, as Sebastian Saiz and Dwight Coleby are averaging 1.83 blocks per game combined. Coleby, who is getting the least amount of post minutes, is actually leading the team in blocks per minute.
This is an extremely long team, especially when Perez is playing at a wing position. They’ll play bigger and better offensive teams — none of their first five opponents are top 200 in offensive rating — and their numbers will drop, but they still have a shot at finishing the year as the top shot blocking team in the SEC.
If Andy Kennedy wants to play his two most assertive offensive players, Marshall Henderson and Derrick Millinghaus, together, he’ll need his back line to make up for their defensive deficiencies. Both guards gamble and get rewarded with steals and transition buckets, but they also put the defense in disadvantages due to their risky play and lack of size.
If Perez, Saiz and Coleby can continue to play at a high level on defense, and Jones and Cox can be All-SEC-level defenders, Ole Miss can get away with its offensive-minded backcourt.
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— Tyler Bischoff