Sellout-worthy: Rebels carry nine-game win streak into week containing two top-25 ranked teams
OXFORD – It took until Feb. 20, 2018 for last year’s Ole Miss team to earn their first SEC road victory. Saturday in Nashville, the Rebels closed the game on a 25-12 run to edge out Vanderbilt, picking up their first SEC road win of 2019 in their first attempt. Things are different this year for Ole Miss hoops.
“As far as confidence goes, it gave us some, but coach Davis has trained us to be a team that wins on the road,” said freshman forward Blake Hinson. “We played hard throughout the whole game. If we just continue to do that we should be okay.”
At 11-2, Ole Miss is riding an eight-game win streak, their longest in six years. Junior guard Breein Tyree is the driving force for the Rebels right now. Tyree was recently named the SEC player of the week, coming off of a career high 31-point outing at Vanderbilt. However, it’s not just a one-game stretch for Tyree: he’s shooting 67.3-percent over his last four games, averaging 22 points over that stretch.
Now, returning home to play one of the best teams in the conference, it’s time for the Rebels to prove they belong. A true road win over 9-4 Vanderbilt is enough to raise some eyebrows, but 11-2 Auburn is a different beast.
Preparation for AP no. 11 Auburn
Auburn has not played a live basketball game since Dec. 29, a 95-49 shelling of North Florida. Come Wednesday night, they will be the last team in the SEC to play their first conference game. There are both positives and negatives to this: the Tigers have had eleven days to prepare for Ole Miss, but they could be rusty.
Bruce Pearl’s team is one of the most balanced in college basketball. According to Kenpom, an college basketball efficiency ranking, the Tigers are no. 9 nationally in offense and no. 27 in defense, one of only eleven schools ranked in the top-30 in both categories. No single Auburn player scores 16 points per game or more, but six players core between 8.5 and 15.3 points per contest. Their two losses come to no. 1 Duke and no. 15 North Carolina State. The NC State loss is their only true road test before their pending trip to The Pavilion.
“They’re very, very deserving of (eleventh) in the country. It looks like a team that can play in the Final Four. They have depth, great experienced guards and are very athletic,” said Ole Miss head coach Kermit Davis. “I’m big on extra possessions and they lead in every extra possession category in the SEC.”
The extra possession stats Davis is talking about are things such as steals, blocks and offensive rebounds – things that give your team extra chances to score. Auburn leads the SEC in steals (10.4 per game), is tied for the lead in blocks (6.2 per game). They are no. 1 in offensive rebounds (15.4 per game).
Come Wednesday, Kermit Davis doesn’t want his team to cave to what Auburn wants. The Tigers are going to enforce their will, but the Rebels need to simply play within themselves.
“I just want them to be the best version of yourself. Don’t go out there and try to do things that we haven’t done. We did that a little bit against Vanderbilt early,” Davis said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing the crowd on Wednesday night. I’m looking forward to a home-court advantage against a top ten or twelve team on national TV. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
As of Monday, the lower bowl of the Pavilion had already been sold out for Wednesday night’s Auburn game, and only around 1,000 tickets remain in the upper level. For a team with NCAA Tournament aspirations, these home games against ranked teams are the ones that you have to win to build your at-large resume. Wednesday is the Rebels’ first chance at that kind of win.
“Ole Miss is excited to see basketball. The fans have showed a lot of love this year, so I expect it to be electric,” Hinson said. “It’s in the air. Everyone knows this is the time. If we’re going to make it to the NCAA Tournament, this is the time. We have to win games, we have to pull them out late. We have to win on the road and we have to defend our home court.”