The Ole Miss men’s basketball team will try to defend Craddock Court once again on Saturday against Cal State Bakersfield.
The Rebels face a softer portion of their schedule after back-to-back losses to Oklahoma State and No. 24 Butler. Their next four opponents are below .500,presenting a chance to get back into a rhythm and build momentum before conference play in the new year.
No. 8 Gonzaga dismantled the 4-6 Roadrunners by in their only matchup against a ranked team so far, and have yet to play a Power-5 opponent.
After Saturday’s game, the Rebels will face Middle Tennessee State at home before a matchup with Southeastern Louisiana in the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. Then they will return home for a matchup against Tennessee Tech.
The upcoming games give the Rebels time to sort out their offensive woes. They have been abysmal in their half court offense, where the offense grinds to a standstill with sloppy turnovers and ill-fated heaves at the basket.
Ole Miss ranks 11th in the SEC in points per game and 13th in field goal percentage– underwhelming figures for a team with aspirations of making the Big Dance again. They are No. 233 in the country in points per possession at 0.93, tucked between two-win Cal Poly and three-win La Salle. The only SEC team behind the Rebels in this metric is Texas A&M, sitting at No. 329.
The Rebels are also 10th in the SEC in offensive rebounding, and while they are in the top 75 in the country in assists, they are among the worst when it comes to committing turnovers, putting them at No. 139 in assist to turnover ratio. Their poor scoring is even more compounded by the fact that they are No. 78 in the country in extra scoring chances per game.
The answer to the riddle of Ole Miss’ offensive struggles lies with its star backcourt.
Last season, Breein Tyree and Devontae Shuler were outstanding shot creators who facilitated the offense and provided a strong scoring punch. This year both players have seen their averages drop significantly.
Tyree is down from 18 points per game last year to 16 this year, but it is his efficiency that has taken more of a downward turn. Last year he shot nearly 46% from the field and over 37% from 3-point range, outstanding numbers that earned him First Team All-SEC honors.
This year his averages have plummeted to 39% on field goals and 26% from three. Even his free throw percentage is down nearly five points.
Shuler is in a similar situation. Last year he averaged 10.3 points on .458/.402/.823 splits but is down to nine points per game on .366/.357/.611 shooting. He has also nearly doubled his turnovers per game from 1.79 per game last year to 2.5 this season.
Some of these issues should be ironed out as Blake Hinson continues to develop and work his way back into the offense. While he has played in four games this season, his points, field goal percentage and 3-point percentage are all up from last year.
The expansion of KJ Buffen’s offensive game may also hold the key to the Rebels’ success. Buffen averaged just six points per game off the bench last season but is up to 11 per contest this year in a starting role.
He has been efficient from the field as well, shooting nearly 54% and 50% from beyond the arc, albeit on just six attempts. He also increased his rebounding to seven boards per game from 4.4 last year.
Buffen must become more comfortable with his jumper to provide better spacing on offense and give the guards more lanes to drive to the rim and create chances. He has already shown his ability to knock down the 15-18 foot midrange shot but must now do it more consistently to help overcome the team’s offensive struggles.
Ole Miss takes on CSU Bakersfield at 1 p.m. on Saturday in The Pavilion.