Welcome back to the 1-3-1, News Editor 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 bad clock management, FBI investigations and five months of college basketball.
One National CBB Thought
Following the departure of Duke’s superstar trio of freshmen and the media obsession that followed them, college basketball has returned to form. There is no unquestioned media darling, no team so loaded with pro-prospects and no consensus national championship favorite. Through four games, Michigan State is the odds-on favorite to win the title at +650, contrasted with this time last season when Duke was listed at +220 to win the title.
However, while a frontrunner has not emerged, the blue bloods have reasserted themselves atop the AP rankings. With the exception of Maryland at No. 6, every team in the AP Top 10 has made a Final Four since 2012. An unsung team like Tennessee or Texas Tech last season will undoubtedly emerge and hover around the top of college basketball rankings throughout the year, but for now, blue blood supremacy remains.
Three Ole Miss Things
Although they’ve only played three games against inferior competition, Ole Miss’ defense looks light-years ahead of where it was through three games last season. The Rebels rank fourth in the country in raw defensive efficiency, sixth in scoring defense (allowing only 52.0 ppg) and average 12 steals per game — good for 11th best nationally.
This is due in part to K.J. Buffen’s emergence as not only the third option offensively, but the defensive anchor to Davis’ defensive scheme. The 6-foot-7 sophomore forward is averaging 2.0 steals and 8.0 rebounds per game, and he’s grabbing nearly 30% of all defensive rebounds for the Rebels. Once Blake Hinson returns, Buffen’s role as an offensive rebounder will ostensibly increase, as opposing defenses will have to extend out to Hinson due to the threat of his 3-point shot.
Blake Hinson, the other 6-foot-7 sophomore forward, has yet to suit up this season. Hinson has dealt with blood abnormalities since the summer, but Davis said last week that he would likely be back for the Memphis game on Nov. 23. Hinson was a bright spot for the Davis’ squad last season, averaging 8.3 points and 2.9 rebounds per game on 31 starts– the most for a freshman since 2007-08. Because Hinson showed flashes of a strong 3-point stroke last year, Davis can play him alongside Buffen for floor spacing purposes.
Ole Miss will matchup with No. 16 Memphis on the court on Saturday, but the off-court battle between Kermit Davis and Memphis Head Coach Penny Hardaway has waged since the season ended last March. Hardaway bagged the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class this off-season, but Davis recently secured a commitment from consensus four-star shooting guard Matthew Murrell, the highest ranked recruit in program history, but more importantly a Memphis native.
In addition to Murrell, Kennedy Chandler, the No. 2 point guard in the class of 2021 and a Memphis native, was in The Pavilion on Friday for a recruiting visit. Ole Miss is Chandler’s first Power 5 scholarship offer, and Davis can sell him on the fact that by the time he’s enrolled on campus, All-SEC guards Breein Tyree and Devontae Shuler will have graduated.
One Look Ahead
While the Rebels have faced four teams with no hopes of ultimately reaching the NCAA Tournament, the strength of schedule over the next two weeks gets considerably harder. Ole Miss goes to No. 16 Memphis on Saturday, hosts Butler the following Tuesday, and will face Penn State and either Oklahoma State or Syracuse at Madison Square Garden in the NIT Tip-off tournament. These games are crucial because they’ll be broadcast on national television, but also because they’re necessary for strengthening teams’ tournament resumes before conference play starts.