1-3-1: Rebels have the tools to make a run at the tournament

Posted on Mar 21 2019 - 5:50am by Griffin Neal

One national CBB thing

As college basketball human-supercomputer Jon Rothstein says, “This is March!” The NCAA Tournament is finally upon us, and it’s the greatest three-week stretch in all of sports.

For the next 21 days, as your friends and colleagues morph into armchair college basketball experts, you’ll have to remind them that you have a better chance at picking a winning bracket by flipping a coin for every game, or in the case of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida, deferring to Nicholas the dolphin for insight. (He successfully picked UNC to win the 2017 National Championship).

However, in the spirit of the season, here’s a tip on filling out that winning bracket.

As unsatisfying as it will be to do so, pick the 1 and 2 seeds to make the elite eight. If you’re looking for a non-top-2 seed to make it, pick Florida State or, if you’re feeling frivolous, the hometown Ole Miss Rebels.

Since 2002, every national champion (with the exception of UConn in 2014) has finished ranked top-20 in both defensive and offensive efficiency. This year, the seven teams that satisfy this criterion are Duke, Virginia, Gonzaga, Michigan State, North Carolina, Michigan and Kentucky. Surprise: They’re all 1 or 2 seeds. Go with your gut, but the past 17 years tell us that one of those seven teams will be cutting down the nets on April 8.

Three Ole Miss things

1) There is no scientific formula for success in March, but two important factors, free-throw shooting and veteran-guard play are typically indicators that a team has a competitive advantage over its opponent. Ole Miss satisfies both categories.

Of the 68 teams in the field, the Rebels shoot the highest percentage from the foul line (78.3 percent) and are led by the SEC’s highest scoring duo in Breein Tyree and Terence Davis. However, when Ole Miss took the floor in Nashville last week, this vaunted all-SEC duo produced a dud, combining for just 13 points — their lowest scoring output of the season.

2) Oklahoma, Ole Miss’s first-round opponent, is the weakest of all 9 seeds and the best possible matchup for the Rebels. The Sooners rank 175th in the country in rebounding margin, which bodes well for an Ole Miss team that struggles with corralling loose shots.

Of the two common opponents Ole Miss shares with Oklahoma (Baylor and Iowa State), the Baylor team that Ole Miss defeated also beat Oklahoma twice, by 30 points on the road and by 6 at home.

3) Ole Miss inked Kermit Davis to a four-year extension on Tuesday, locking up their SEC Coach of the Year exactly one year after he took over the program. Before the extension, Davis was under a four-year, $10 million contract, and the extension likely adds another year to his contract due to a Mississippi law dictating that coaching contracts can’t extend past four years.

The university did not disclose whether or not the extension includes a renegotiated salary, but Davis did receive $50,000 bonuses for winning SEC Coach of the Year and for making the tournament. Looks like Kermit Davis can afford slightly more expensive tea to sip on — maybe some crumpets, too.

One look ahead

The simple fact that Ole Miss is playing in March, and not in the NIT, is a victory in itself. For a team picked to finish last in the conference to enter the tournament with the team’s highest seed since 2002 is an even greater win. But none of that matters now. Everything that has happened since October is irrelevant.

Virginia is the 1 seed in the South region where Ole Miss resides. Since 1983, Virginia has claimed a 1 seed four times. In all four of these instances (1983, 2014, 2016 and 2018) the team to make the Final Four from Virginia’s region has been a 6 seed or higher, and the average seed of the team to reach the Final Four from Virginia’s region is 8.

And who is the 8 seed in Virginia’s bracket this season? The Ole Miss Rebels.