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Reeling Ole Miss team welcomes Arkansas to town for SEC home opener

Kermit Davis’s inaugural-year Ole Miss team rarely laid a dud, and when they did, they always bounced back to be competitive the next week.  

The 2019-20 Rebels are lacking that elasticity to bounce back. 

Twice this season, Ole Miss (9-5, 0-1 SEC) has put together back-to-back games where they failed to score 60 points or shoot better than 40 percent. 

After consecutive 74-54 and 57-47 road losses to Wichita State and Texas A&M, respectively, Ole Miss is in a funk. They’re welcoming a return home with open arms. 

“We’ve reverted back to before I got the job. That’s no reflection on anybody. But we’re a team that doesn’t play as hard as we’d like,” Davis said. “It hurts me. All the teams I’ve had over the last 10 or 12 years have had toughness and physicalness and played with great body language. I love teams that play with an edge and play with passion. Right now, when it goes a little bad for us, our leadership isn’t great. We’ve got a lot of areas we need to improve in.” 

As nice as it will be for the Rebels to get back to The Pavilion, the competition is only getting tougher. The Rebels’ home opener on Saturday pulls in one of the Southeastern Conference’s best teams in Arkansas (12-2, 1-1 SEC). 

It’s an interesting matchup for Ole Miss: a Rebel team that’s really been struggling to score the ball against one of the country’s better defenses. Coming into Oxford, the Razorbacks rank  No. 14 nationally in Kenpom defensive efficiency. They’re the nation’s best team in three-point defense, holding opponents to just 22.6 percent from downtown on the season and lead the SEC in steals with 9.5 per game and turnovers forced at 17.9 per game. 

That three-pointer, both defensively and also offensively, has been a big point of emphasis for the Razorbacks under first year head coach Eric Musselman. Just two schools in the SEC attempt more three pointers than the Razorbacks’ 25 per game, and no one in the conference shoots more than Isaiah Joe. The sophomore guard is attempting 12 three pointers per game. Slowing down him and his backcourt mate, Mason Jones, will be key for the Rebels. 

“Obviously, (Isaiah) Joe and Mason (Jones) are playing like two All-SEC players. They were really good against us last year,” Davis said. “Their team is playing good and guarding at a really high level. They really share the ball so it’ll be a tough test for us.” 

However, as important as it will be for Ole Miss to know what to expect in Arkansas, right now their focus is more inward. The Rebels know they’re playing far from the level of basketball they’re capable of. At 9-5, Ole Miss currently ranks No. 101 nationally in Kenpom and No. 89 in the NET Rankings. There’s a lot of basketball left, but right now the NCAA Tournament bubble is far off in the distance. 

In their SEC opener at Texas A&M, the worst team in the SEC by the NET Rankings, Ole Miss blew a 10-point halftime lead by scoring just 18 points in the second half in the 57-47 loss. 

The big problem for the Rebels seems to be their ability to show up against real opponents over the past month. On Nov. 23, the Rebels lost a close 87-86 game on the road at Memphis. Four days later, they beat a Penn State team now ranked No. 20. Since those two games, Ole Miss has lost four straight against teams from either Power-5 conferences or ranked mid-majors, losing by an average of 20 points per game. 

“There’s a lot we need to figure out as a team. I don’t think it’s one specific thing – it’s a whole lot of things,” senior guard Breein Tyree said. “There’s a lot of things we’re struggling with. But we have a lot of season left to play and I still have full confidence with this team.” 

Tyree mentioned slow starts, losing 50-50 balls and simply buying into the system as the things the team is struggling most with right now. They have a chance to flip that script Saturday. 

Last season, Ole Miss and Arkansas split two meetings, each winning on their home floor with the Rebels waxing Arkansas 84-67 at The Pavilion. Ole Miss will take on the Razorbacks at 5 p.m. from The Pavilion on Saturday. The game is televised on SEC Network.