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Breaking down the Ole Miss basketball non-conference schedule

Ole Miss basketball head coach Kermit Davis clearly made an emphasis in year two to increase the difficulty of the non-conference schedule.

A year ago, the Rebels went to Butler and played Baylor and Cincinnati in Florida as part of the Emerald Coast Classic tournament over Thanksgiving weekend. Things are going to look a little different this year.

Ole Miss still plays Butler, this time finishing off the back end of a home-and-home series, but added two additional challenging non-conference games. This doesn’t even count this year’s Thanksgiving weekend tournament, the NIT Tip-Off at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

With all due respect to the first four teams on the Ole Miss schedule, the first time we will really get a chance to see what this Rebel team is made of will happen on the road. Ole Miss heads to Memphis on Nov. 23 to play Penny Hardaway’s new-look Memphis team.

They may not be a top-5 team when the 2019 rankings are released, but the Tigers legitimately had the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation in 2019, beating out Kentucky and Duke for the top spot. The best high school basketball player in the country and presumptive favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, James Wiseman, is a Tiger. And the team also signed one other five-star recruit and five four-star recruits.

Memphis will look a lot like the Duke teams we’ve seen the last few years: young, inexperienced, but athletic and talented. Good news is that Ole Miss and Memphis play in the first month of the season. Ole Miss’s core four players of Breein Tyree, Devontae Shuler, K.J. Buffen and Blake Hinson all have a season or more of playing together under their belts. These Memphis kids will still be getting to know each other.

The next set of challenging games also come on the road, this time in New York. Ole Miss joins a group consisting of  Syracuse, Penn State and Oklahoma State in the NIT Tip-Off tournament over Thanksgiving weekend. Game times and opening matchups for the 2019 NIT Tip-Off were announced Thursday afternoon, and the Rebels will begin the tournament against Penn State. The Rebels and Nittany Lions will square off at Barclays Center on Wednesday, Nov. 27 at 4 p.m. CT on ESPN2. Last year, this tournament weekend provided the Rebels with arguably their top resume-boosting win – Baylor. It’s a great chance to pick up one or two more non-conference wins to improve the résumé for the NCAA Tournament when March rolls around.

Syracuse, like Ole Miss, played in the eight-nine game in the NCAA Tournament last year. Both Oklahoma State and Penn State finished below .500, but both have reason for optimism this year. Oklahoma State signed the nation’s No. 13 recruiting class, where last year Penn State beat both No. 7 Michigan and No. 17 Maryland.

Ole Miss lost last year, on the road, at Butler. This Butler team would have one of it’s most underwhelming years of recent memory, finishing 16-17. This year, Ole Miss gets them at home in The Pavilion. The Bulldogs return their best player, senior guard Kamar Baldwin. Baldwin averaged 18.9 points in conference play, but this is a game at home the Rebels should win if they have hopes for March.

Maybe not the most competitive game on the roster, but Ole Miss hosting Cal State Bakersfield in December will provide a storyline nonetheless. Rod Barnes, the Ole Miss assistant from 1993-98 and head coach from 1998-2006 has been at Cal Bakersfield since 2011 as their head coach. Another former head coach matchup will come when Ole Miss hosts Middle Tennessee this year – Kermit Davis’ former squad. The Rebels and MTSU played last year in and Ole Miss win at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

For the second straight year, Ole Miss is playing a non-conference game in Jackson. Kermit Davis has made a commitment to try and get the Rebels out throughout the state and improve the Ole Miss footprint on Mississippi. For the second straight year, they’ll do just that by playing Southeastern Louisiana at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson.

The final piece to the Ole Miss non-conference puzzle was added earlier this week. The Rebels will travel to Kansas for a battle with a consistently good mid-major in Wichita State. The meeting with the Shockers is the first leg of a home-and-home that will see Wichita State come to The Pavilion for the 2020-21 season. Despite their 22-15 record last season, the Shockers didn’t earn an NCAA Tournament bid for the first time since 2011. It’s the second Ole Miss non-conference game against the AAC, as Memphis and Wichita State are in the same conference.

It’s a revamped non-conference schedule, and a tougher one than the year before. But it’s these kinds of games on the resume that are proven to help in March.

Ole Miss Basketball 2019-20 Non-Conference Schedule

Nov. 4              Mississippi College (Exhibition)
Nov. 8              Arkansas State
Nov. 12            Norfolk State
Nov. 15            Western Michigan
Nov. 19            Seattle
Nov. 23           at Memphis
Nov. 27           NIT Tip-Off (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Nov. 29           NIT Tip-Off (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Dec. 3              Butler
Dec. 7              CSU Bakersfield
Dec. 14            Middle Tennessee
Dec. 21            vs. Southeastern Louisiana (Jackson, Miss.)
Dec. 29            Tennessee Tech
Jan. 4              at Wichita State

 


You can reach Nathanael Gabler at nathanael.gabler@oxfordeagle.com with news tips, suggestions or comments. Follow @ngabler4 on Twitter.