Home State Wide It’s early yet, but these Ole Miss Rebels have serious basketball potential

It’s early yet, but these Ole Miss Rebels have serious basketball potential

Ole Miss guard Jaylen Murray moves the ball down-court during the game between the NC State Wolfpack and the Ole Miss Rebels at SJB Pavilion in Oxford, MS. (Photo by Kevin Langley/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

OXFORD — Who knows where this basketball season heads for Ole Miss? Answer: Nobody. It’s early, like really early. No college basketball trophies that matter are awarded in December.

That said, Chris Beard’s first Ole Miss basketball team took a huge step – perhaps even a bounding leap – toward playing basketball that really matters here Saturday, knocking off a hugely talented Memphis 80-77.

Here’s what we do know for certain:

  • The Rebels are a battle-tested and perfect 7-0, having won numerous down-to-the-wire games including Saturday’s nail-biter.
  • They are still getting to know one another, learning Beard’s system. They seem to play better each time out and are nowhere near as good today as they have a chance to be in March.
  • They have two seven-footers who doggedly defend the paint, mostly from high above the rim and will take away the inside games of many lesser teams.
  • Ole Miss fans are responding. They packed SJB Pavilion (9,416 strong), painted it red, and threatened to blow the top off in the second half when the Rebels erased an 11-point deficit.
Rick Cleveland

My big question about Beard’s first Ole Miss team was whether or not the Rebels would have the quality of point guard play a team must have to compete at college basketball’s highest level. Well, they for sure had it Saturday. Jaylen Murray, a junior transfer from Saint Peters, won the game for Ole Miss. That’s all he did. He won the game.

You won’t find many stat lines any better than Murray’s. He played all 40 minutes. He led all scorers with 22 points, which is nice but what follows is nicer still. He passed out nine assists while turning the ball over just once. He made four of the six three-point shots he took. He scored seven of those points in the last two minutes. He took over a game that Ole Miss was about to lose and won it.

A wise basketball coach, one who has made millions and millions coaching this crazy sport, once told me that he would always, if at all possible, recruit his point guards from the playgrounds of the big cities, places like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago. He wanted his playmakers to come from the playgrounds where, if you lose the game, you lose the court and have to wait sometimes hours to play again. Those guys, the old coach said, know what it means to win and will do whatever it takes.

Murray, it should be noted, is from the Bronx. He may only stand 5 feet, 11 inches tall, but he knows what it takes to win. Saturday, he did it. This was by far his best game as a Rebel. He came into the game having passed out 23 assists, compared to 13 turnovers. That’s not awful, but it’s not nearly as good as nine and one.

Beard was asked after his press conference whether it was overstating matters to say Murray had taken over the game. Said Beard, “He did what it took to win. I couldn’t be more proud.”

This Ole Miss team has a lot of weapons. Allen Flanigan, a senior transfer from Auburn, is a 6-foot-6 slasher, the son of former Auburn Tiger Wes Flanigan, now one of Beard’s assistants. The younger Flanagan can twist, contort and muscle his way to the hoop. He leads Ole Miss in scoring on the season with 19 a game. Just as his father was, Allen Flanigan is one tough dude.

Returner Matthew Murrell is the team’s sharpshooter and averages 15 per game. The Rebels will need to get more from 6-8 forward Jaemyn Brakefield, who transferred to Ole Miss from Duke two seasons ago, and has the potential and stroke to score more than the 7.8 points per game he currently scores and shoot more accurately than the 33.3% he currently shoots.

The trademark of Beard’s past teams, especially at Texas Tech where his team lost in overtime to Virginia in the 2019 national championship game, has been aggressive, tenacious defense. That apparently will be the case with this first Ole Miss team, as well. The Rebels give up just 66 points a game despite a fast-paced style. Opponents shoot less than 40% from the floor.

That percentage might get even lower, now that Oklahoma State transfer Moussa Cisse has become eligible. Cisse is 7 feet tall and athletic, yet he’s five inches shorter than the guy he currently plays behind. That would be Jamarion Sharp, a skyscraper who came to Oxford from Western Kentucky and has roughly the wingspan of a small airplane. He leads the SEC in blocked shots with 2.7 per game. Now comes Cisse, who blocked two shots per game in two seasons at Oklahoma State after beginning his career at Memphis. It will be highly difficult to score against Ole Miss in the paint. That’s a good start to winning basketball games right there.

No doubt, you have noticed a word that keeps being repeated with nearly every Rebel player. That word: “transfer.” And so it is with college sports these days, when coaches are learning to play musical scholarships. Where the Rebels are concerned, they have two post players who have played college basketball at six different schools combined. You have a point guard who last year played at Saint Peters. You have a wing man who started his career at Duke. You have a leading scorer who played four seasons at Auburn. And you have a coach who has won 11 of 16 total NCAA Tournament games at three previous schools.

So, no, we don’t where this baby of a season is headed at Ole Miss. But clearly there is potential for greatness. Nobody will have an easy time at The SJB Pavilion, where as Beard put it, “It got to the point today where we couldn’t hear each other.”

In college basketball that’s a good thing, almost as good as having two rim-protecting 7-footers and a point guard from the Bronx.

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