Previewing Ole Miss’ SEC basketball schedule, part 2

Published 10:25 am Thursday, January 3, 2019

Ole Miss closed non-conference play at 10 wins for the first time since 2015, quite the impressive start for the first year of the Kermit Davis era. Now they enter conference play, a Southeastern Conference with four teams ranked inside the AP top-20. Ahead of opening night Saturday against Vanderbilt, we will preview each of the SEC opponents on the Ole Miss schedule alphabetically. Today: part two of the two-part series.

LSU (10-3)
Game against Ole Miss: Jan. 15 in Oxford

Louisiana State has arguably the deepest team in the Southeastern Conference. Nine Tigers play 16 minutes per game or more, and five of them score between 8.9 points per game and Skylar Mays’ team-high 13.5 points per game. LSU has played good teams but are 0-2 against schools in power-five conferences. Their best win to date is either an 85-76 win over Memphis or a 75-57 win over then no. 24 Furman, who has now dropped two straight.

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In a recent loss to no. 24 Houston, LSU blew a 15-point second half lead to lose by six. The Tigers are a better offensive than defensive team. They rely heavily on steals on the defensive end, ranking second in the SEC with 10 steals per game. LSU ranks no. 47 nationally in ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI), just ahead of Ole Miss’ no. 59, and no. 24 by Kenpom, an advanced team efficiency metric. Ole Miss is no. 48 by Kenpom.

Mississippi State (12-1, AP no. 17)
Games against Ole Miss: Jan. 12 in Starkville, Miss., Feb. 2 in Oxford

Entering conference play with the most wins of any team in the conference, Mississippi State hasn’t lost since a Nov. 20 game to now 9-3 Arizona State. They enter SEC play on a nine-game winning streak, including wins over 10-3 Clemson and 12-2 Cincinnati. Remember, Ole Miss lost to Cincinnati back in November.

Led by senior guard Quinndary Weatherspoon’s 17.2 points per game, Mississippi State is one of the more balanced teams in the conference. Through the non-conference slate, they are one of just three SEC schools to rank inside the top-50 in both offensive and defensive efficiency by Kenpom. Outside of Florida, they’ve played the strongest non-conference schedule of SEC schools, and they rank no. 24 in BPI to start the New Year.

Missouri (9-3)
Games against Ole Miss: Feb. 16 in Oxford, Mar. 9 in Columbia, Mo.

After starting the year a very shaky 3-3, Missouri rattled off six straight wins to close 2018. Looking back, none of the losses are egregious. They lost their only true road game at Iowa State, lost to then no. 12 Kansas State at a neutral site and lost to 10-3 Temple by two. Things got better for Mizzou to close the year, beating a perennially good Xavier team and a power-five school in Illinois to close the year, but they certainly have work to do.

The Tigers actually lead the SEC in three-point shooting, shooting an impressive 39.3-percent from downtown despite being one of the lower scoring teams in the SEC at 69.1 points per game. The more advanced metrics don’t like Missouri very much, as Kenpom ranks their offense no. 111 in the country.

South Carolina (5-7)
Game against Ole Miss: Feb. 19 in Columbia, S.C.

Losers of four of their last five, South Carolina enters nonconference play limping. In all fairness, two of the losses were to two of the top four teams in the country in Michigan and Virginia. However, they also have losses to Stony Brook and Wofford. Simply put, the Gamecocks are the weakest team on the Ole Miss conference schedule. Kenpom ranks them no. 124 in the country, right behind Texas State and Northern Kentucky, and their offense ranks no. 191 nationally.

Tennessee (11-1, AP no. 3)
Game against Ole Miss: Feb. 27 in Oxford  

Tennessee is hands down the best team in the Southeastern Conference at this point. At 11-1, the only loss for the Volunteers was a six-point loss to now no. 5 Kansas back in November. On Dec. 9, Tennessee and then no. 1 Gonzaga squared off a neutral floor in Phoenix, and Tennessee handed the Bulldogs their first loss of the season, winning 76-73.

Grand Williams and Admiral Schofield are without a doubt the best one-two punch in the conference. Schofield, a senior guard, is averaging 18.2 points and 6 rebounds per game, not to be outdone by Williams. The junior forward is averaging 20.1 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4 assists per game, and may be the best player in college basketball not named Zion Williamson. Like Mississippi State, it’s an incredibly balanced Tennessee team – but they do it better. Tennessee is no. 6 nationally in offensive efficiency and no. 32 in defense efficiency by Kenpom.

Texas A&M (6-5)
Game against Ole Miss: Feb. 6 in Oxford

Similarly to South Carolina, Texas A&M has been another up and down team this season. They lost four of their first five games before rebounding to get above .500 by the year’s end. There’s not one thing the Aggies really do great: They rank no. 105 in offense and no. 91 in defense. They have no calling card. However, if you’re digging for positives for the Aggies, they have been tested. Texas A&M have played four games against power-five teams, including going on the road to play then no. 3 Gonzaga, a 94-71 loss. Of the four power-five games, the only win came on a neutral floor in Oregon, beating Oregon State 67-64.

Vanderbilt (9-3)
Game against Ole Miss: Jan. 5 in Nashville, Tenn.

Ole Miss opens non-conference play this Saturday in Nashville. Unfortunately, Vanderbilt will be playing the rest of the year without their best player. Freshman point guard Darius Garland had surgery on his left knee back in November to repair meniscus damage. He was expected to be a lottery pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

However, Vanderbilt is not devoid of talent with Garland out. They are 5-2 since he went down, including a win over then no. 18 Arizona State. Four players score ten points or more for Vandy, led by Simisola Shittu, a true freshman five-star recruit. Shittu is averaging 14.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game for a Commodore team that ranks no. 61 in the country by both BPI and Kenpom.