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Terence Davis, Breein Tyree and the value of veteran guard play in the NCAA Tournament

OXFORD – ‘Experienced guard play is critical this time of year.’ It’s a phrase that will be thrown around in just about every March Madness preview show. But what many overlook entering the NCAA Tournament is just how important that cliché phrase is. Despite the importance of one-and-done basketball in the modern era, nearly every team this decade with a national championship win under its belt is led by not only upperclassmen, but upperclassmen guards.

Dating back to the start of this decade, six of the nine teams to win a National Championship were steered by a leading scorer who was a junior or senior guard. Of the three that did not, 2017 North Carolina and 2015 Duke’s second-leading scorer were senior guards. 2012 Kentucky was an aberration, led by the best college player in the modern era in Anthony Davis, and even their second-leading scorer was a sophomore guard.

This brings us back to the 2019 Ole Miss team, who takes all of the guard tournament histories and doubles down on it. The two leading scorers for the Rebels are both upperclassmen guards. Junior Breein Tyree, who finished tied for second in the SEC in scoring, and senior Terence Davis combined to be the SEC’s leading scoring duo in the conference.

Tyree and Davis struggled mightily against Alabama in the  SEC Tournament opener in Nashville, going a combined 4-27 from the field in the loss. They’re angry and hurt by the performance – Tyree said on Sunday he hadn’t slept in days. But, while the Rebels may have stumbled in Nashville, they’re built for March.

“I know (Terence Davis) and Breein (Tyree) have a bad taste in their mouth from Nashville. They’ve had such a tremendous year and helped us win so many games,” said Ole Miss head coach Kermit Davis, just minutes after finding out they would play in the NCAA Tournament. “Usually getting two guards that are that good, they’re going to redeem themselves. I’m sure they’ll play well in this tournament.”

Now a senior, Terence Davis has seen just about every layer of college basketball. Entering campus as a freshman, the year after the team’s last NCAA Tournament appearance, the Rebels won 20 games but missed the NCAA Tournament. Ole Miss won 22 games in Davis’ sophomore year – still no tournament bid.

Last year, the team bottomed out, losing 11 of their final 12 games, leading to the departure of former coach Andy Kennedy. As a senior, Davis has reached the peak he dreamed of when he stepped foot in Oxford for the first time in the summer of 2015.

“You never think, coming into college, that it would be until your senior year before you get into the tournament. But I like the fact that it happened before I was able to leave college,” Davis said. “I’m glad I chose to come back to school. It’s the best decision I ever made.”

Terence Davis dipped his toes in the NBA waters last summer, working out for a few NBA teams ahead of the draft. However, he never hired an agent which allowed him to come back to school if he chose. Ole Miss hired Kermit Davis in March of 2018, and it only took a few sit-downs with Terence to convince him to come back for his senior year. This plan, attempting to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time as a senior, is what kept Terence Davis in Oxford.

“This was the conversation we had. I always thought I was coming back,” Davis said. “Under the table, I told coach I wasn’t going to leave. I was coming back. I wanted to go work out (for NBA teams) for personal reasons. But the plan was definitely (coming back).”

As for experience, Terence Davis and Breein Tyree have played a lot of basketball together in a Rebel uniform – 98 games over the last three years to be exact. However, what they don’t have is experience on the biggest stage. When the lights turn on Friday against Oklahoma in the NCAA Tournament round of 64, with Jim Nantz and Bill Raftery calling the game, it will be hands-down the biggest basketball moment of Davis and Tyree’s career.

“Experience is definitely going to mean a lot. But if you want to take that and say experience in the tournament, we have none. We’ve played a lot of basketball and we understand what’s at risk – you lose you go home. But the go-to guys, I made All-League and (Terence Davis) made All-League, we have to be making All-League plays.”

Every game from Friday on is a do-or-die game for the Rebels. If these two guards aren’t making their All-League plays, Ole Miss has very little shot of advancing in the NCAA Tournament. If these two can play to their potential, Ole Miss has the recipe for March Madness success.