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3 takeaways from Ole Miss men’s basketball’s Paradise Jam games

Ole Miss didn’t end the Paradise Jam the way it wanted to Monday as the Rebels fell victim to Creighton’s hot shooting and a late scoring drought in an 86-77 championship loss that dropped Ole Miss from the ranks of the unbeaten.

The Rebels went 2-1 in the tournament against the best competition it’s faced this season and will head back to Oxford at 4-1 overall with Montana awaiting Thursday. What’s to make of Ole Miss’ three games off the mainland?

Here are three takeaways from the Rebels’ tournament performance:

Ole Miss shows itself well against quality competition

As previously mentioned, Ole Miss’ four days in the U.S. Virgin Islands provided the Rebels with their stiffest competition to this point, and the Rebels looked the part.

You never know exactly what November wins and losses are going to look like in February, but Ole Miss handled a St. Joseph’s team that has double-digit players back from last year’s Atlantic 10 championship team for its first KenPom top-100 win and went toe to toe against a top-15 Creighton team that’s incredibly balanced on offense and may use that to give Villanova a scare in the Big East this season.

Ole Miss also showed some resolve in its tournament opener against Oral Roberts to give itself a chance to play St. Joseph’s and Creighton, erasing a five-point deficit in the final 1:24 of regulation before winning in overtime. Again, it’s early, but the ability to hang with and beat quality teams away from home is valued in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee when handing out at-large bids in March.

There’s a long way to go, but it was a good showing on which Ole Miss can build.

Roles seem to be sorting themselves out

Ole Miss needs Sebastian Saiz and Deandre Burnett to score and Cullen Neal to run the offense at the point without turning the ball over. And if these three games are any indication, Andy Kennedy is starting to get an idea of what he wants from everybody else, too.

Justas Furmanavicius’ playing style reminds me of Martavious Newby with his willingness to do a lot of the dirty work. Furmanavicius is all over the court and grabbed 16 rebounds in the final two tournaments games, but Marcanvis Hymon started those games over Furmanavicius at the power forward spot, an indication that Kennedy may feel like Furmanavicius’ energy is better utilized in spurts off the bench with his non-stop motor causing him to get out of control at times.

Rasheed Brooks averaged 14.7 points for the tournament and could be developing into a more consistent scoring option along with Neal to help take some of the load off Burnett and Saiz. Sophomore Terence Davis is instant offense off the bench, scoring 13 points in 22 minutes against Creighton. Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey will back up Neal at the point.

Those are the eight who are rotating the most. Freshmen Breein Tyree and Karlis Silins are playing a few minutes here and there, though Tyree could get more playing time as his surgically repaired knee gets closer to full strength.

Ole Miss will go as Sebastian Saiz goes

But Saiz’s play showed why nobody’s role will be more important for the Rebels this season than his.

Saiz had a career-high 26 points and 12 rebounds against St. Joseph’s after going for 11 and six against Oral Roberts. Ole Miss won both games (with a huge assist from Burnett’s 41 points against Oral Roberts). That after he went for 22 points and a career-high 19 rebounds in the Rebels’ two-point win over UMass before leaving the mainland.

In Monday’s loss, Saiz had a season-low four points as Creighton often crowded Saiz with a second defender once he got the ball to force him to give it up just as quickly. Saiz had just five points and three rebounds in Ole Miss’ season opener as the Rebels fought to hold on for a three-point win over Tennessee Martin, which has the worst KenPam rating of any team Ole Miss has played so far.

Bottom line: Saiz has to be effective for the Rebels to win and more than that for Ole Miss to beat the better teams on its schedule. Opponents know this, and credit Creighton for making someone other than Saiz try to beat them.

Burnett made Oral Roberts pay, and the Rebels’ shooters will need to continue to knock down perimeters shot to help alleviate some of the defensive pressure being thrown Saiz’s way.