1. Backcourt duo
Another night in the SEC, another solid backcourt that the Cats will be facing tonight. The best player on this Ole Miss roster is unquestionably Devontae Shuler. A three and a half year starter for the Rebels, Shuler leads the team in both scoring and passing as a senior. He is currently eighth in the SEC in scoring at 16 points per game and sixth in the SEC in total assists, averaging 3.3 per game. Shuler also averages 3.1 rebounds and 1.6 steals per contest, while hitting 78.1% of his free throws. He’s the biggest perimeter threat for Ole Miss, making 47 threes on the season at a nearly 34% clip.
The running mate in the backcourt for Shuler is junior guard Jarkel Joiner. He started for two years at CSU Bakersfield before transferring to Ole Miss for his junior year. Joiner averages 10.7 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.1 steals per game. While Shuler is probably the best scorer on the team, Joiner does have some offensive struggles. He takes nearly ten shots per game, but only makes 38.6% of his attempts. From three, Joiner struggles as well, making just 12 of his 61 attempts for 19.7%. His struggles away from the basket have led to Joiner being more of a driver on offense than he was at his previous school, where he shot 37% from three.
2. Interior presence
Despite the tallest players in the starting lineup measuring at just 6’8″ and 6’7″, Ole Miss doesn’t struggle to impose an interior presence. Starting forward Romello White scores 11 points and grabs 5.7 rebounds per game in his first year at Ole Miss after three years at Arizona State. White stands at 6’8″ and 235 pounds, playing more of a back to the basket game, and pulls down more than two offensive rebounds per game. Also crashing the offensive boards for Ole Miss are the other two starting forwards, KJ Buffen, who is 6’7″ and 230 pounds, and 6’6″ Luis Rodriguez.
Off the bench is some additional size for the Rebels, with 6’10” Khadim Sy playing 11 minutes per game and 6’8″ Robert Allen playing nearly 16 minutes per game. Ole Miss pulls down around 10 offensive rebounds per game, with an offensive rebound percentage of 32.2%, good for fourth in the SEC. That could be a struggle for Kentucky, as the Cats rank 248th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage, and even worse, rank 302nd in the country in opponent offensive rebounding. If Kentucky can’t keep Ole Miss off the glass, it will be detrimental to any defensive effort they put forth.
3. Playing their best ball
The beginning of this season was rough for the Ole Miss Rebels, as Kermit Davis’ squad had three straight Covid cancellations to start the season. Once they finally were able to get on the floor, Ole Miss came out hot, winning their first four games, although the competition was not at a high-level. Wins over Jackson State, UNC Wilmington, Central Arkansas, and Middle Tennessee were followed by a loss at Dayton, a win over UT Martin, and a loss to Wichita State to round out non-conference play. The Rebels had the 170th ranked non-conference strength of schedule, and managed to finish 5-2 in that stretch.
The start of SEC play didn’t treat the Rebels well either, as Ole Miss dropped 6 of their first 9 games against conference foes, including losing four of their first five. However, the month of February saw the Rebels playing their best basketball of the season. Ole Miss won their first four games to start last month, and finished 5-2 overall. In those five February wins, Kermit Davis had the Rebels knock off three ranked opponents and also had three road wins. Sitting at 8-8 in conference play, Ole Miss sits right above Kentucky’s 7-8 record in the SEC standings.
4. Offensive struggles vs. defensive abilities
In sitting down to look at what has caused the overall struggles for Ole Miss this season, the thing that jumped out to me the most is that they haven’t been too entirely dissimilar to how Kentucky has struggled this year. The offensive production for the Rebels has been lacking, and while the defensive efforts have overcome the offensive struggles, not being able to score effectively has been the true detriment to the team.
On the offensive side, Ole Miss ranks 13th in the SEC in points per game, which is 207th in the country. The Rebels also rank 13th in the conference in total three-pointers made and are last in three-point percentage. Ole Miss’ 28.5% from three this season ranks 340th of 347 qualified teams in the country. On the flip side, the defensive effort from Ole Miss has been pretty solid overall. Ole Miss is second in the SEC in points allowed per game, which puts them just outside the top 30 teams in the country. The lone major problem with the Ole Miss defense is their inability to stop teams from making the deep ball. Whether or not Kentucky can take advantage of that weak spot in the Rebel defense is a different story.
5. Streaks on the line
One of the longest active winning streaks over an SEC opponent for Kentucky is on the line in tonight’s game. A win over Ole Miss tonight would mark the 12th consecutive victory for the Cats over the Rebels. In fact, Kentucky has only lost one game to Ole Miss in the John Calipari era in Lexington, sitting at a 12-1 record. That lone loss did come on the road at Ole Miss, in a game that came down to the final possession. The Rebels hit a three with less than three seconds to play and Doron Lamb’s buzzer-beater was off the mark, as the Cats dropped only their third game to Ole Miss since 1999.
Historically struggling against Kentucky, Ole Miss is losing the overall series by the score of 108-13. Despite that long history, Kentucky’s struggles this season are historic themselves, and Ole Miss sits as a 3-point favorite in tonight’s game. Tonight will be the first time since 2013 that Kentucky plays Ole Miss as an unranked team, and it will be the first time since 2009 that neither team is ranked at the time of the match up.
Go Cats. Beat Rebels.