The 1-3-1 breakdown

Posted on Feb 1 2019 - 5:50am by Griffin Neal

One National CBB Thought

Let’s talk about Ja Morant. Morant is a 6-foot-3-inch guard from Murray State and unless you’re a college basketball geek, you probably didn’t hear of him until last October. He’s averaging 24 points and 10.5 assists per game, and is the only player in the country to be in the top 10 of both categories. Morant is averaging nearly three assists more than the second place passer, and is the only player in the top 10 assist category who averages more than 20 points per game.

But Morant is just putting up empty stats in the Ohio Valley Conference, right? Wrong. Morant is a bonafide superstar. Projected by most analysts to be selected in the top 5 of this summer’s NBA Draft, Morant dropped 38 in a road loss against Alabama and 25 against Auburn.

Morant has a 44-inch vertical, similar to his AAU teammate and projected No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson. SB Nation called Morant college basketball’s version of Russell Westbrook, and with good measure. He’s an above-the-rim player with a propensity for embarrassing his defender and shooting the three at a below average clip. Oh, and he rocks the baby like Russ too.

For now, Morant and Murray State are projected to grab a 12 seed in the NCAA tournament. They lost both of their Quadrant 1 contests and do play an inferior caliber of competition in the Ohio Valley Conference.

However, no team wants to face the Racers come March. If there is one constant about college basketball, it’s that in March, convention and strength of schedule are unimportant. All that matters is who has the best guy on the floor. Luckily for Murray State, they have Morant in their corner.

Three Ole Miss Things

Wednesday night’s loss to Florida was an interesting case study in the age-old debate of whether or not a team should foul when leading by three in the final seconds of a game.

With eight seconds remaining, Ole Miss led by three, and Florida had to travel the length of the court to hit a three to send the game to overtime. If the Rebels would have fouled when the ball handler crossed half court, he would have had to sink two free throws, then foul on the inbound, and hope that Ole Miss missed one.

On Wednesday, Kermit Davis elected not to foul, and Florida’s KeVaughn Allen sunk a contested three to send the game to overtime where they’d eventually prevail. If I were to guess, I’d speculate that Coach Davis would do the same again. It’s like gambling; pick a side and stick to it. It just didn’t work out for Ole Miss this time around.

The rapid demise of Blake Hinson’s game has been a pain for Ole Miss fans to watch. Hinson has struggled since his explosion against Mississippi State, and the struggles haven’t stopped. Hinson did score 13 in the loss to Iowa State, but missed 7 of his 10 shots and missed multiple defensive assignments.

Against Florida, Hinson scored just two points and fouled out in 20 minutes of action. Hinson was his home state’s player of the year his senior season in high school, and projects to be a hallmark of the program going forward. But Hinson has to be productive if Ole Miss has any remaining tournament hopes.

KJ Buffen played his best game of the season Wednesday at Florida. He scored a career-high 17 points, notched five rebounds, and made his second 3-pointer of the year. Buffen played smothering on-ball defense and rebounded well. Buffen is precisely what Kermit Davis needs in a wing. He’s got length and moxie on defense and gets to the rim rather easily. He can expand his game tenfold if he works on knocking down the three ball at a respectable percentage this offseason.

One Look Ahead

After losing four of their last five games, Ole Miss badly needs a win Saturday at home versus Mississippi State. Should the Rebels defeat their in-state rival on Saturday, they’ll open up perhaps their easiest week of SEC play with Texas A&M and Georgia in the next eight days. A three-game win streak should reinvigorate this program that has been hopelessly searching for a spark since its win in Starkville three weeks ago.

With half of SEC play under their belt, the Ole Miss Rebels are currently tied for 5th in the conference with Alabama and Florida. The top three seeds (Tennessee, LSU, Kentucky) are most likely set in stone. The second half of conference play is likely to bring a dash for fourth, which ensures a double-bye in the SEC tournament.

Right now, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Alabama and Florida are all jockeying for position. It’s conceivable that Ole Miss could grab that spot, but they could also fall into the 8-9 range being that Auburn and Mississippi State are on their heels. After the top few seeds, the SEC is wide open, for now.