How Did We Get Here?
Ole Miss’s decision to move on from Andy Kennedy, the winningest coach in school history, in 2018 seemed questionable at the time, and it seemed more questionable after they hired Kermit Davis to replace him. Davis didn’t really signal a new direction for the program; he just seemed like Andy Kennedy, only older and worse. That briefly looked wrong after Davis took Kennedy’s players — who had gone 12-20 in his final season — and made the NCAA Tournament in year one.
The four subsequent seasons produced a 56-69 record, including a 29-49 SEC record. The last two: 25-40, 7-29. And acquiring talent wasn’t the problem: three of the top five high school recruits in the history of the 247 Sports composite signed under Davis. Going into last season, a lot of people saw the roster and thought Ole Miss would challenge for a NCAA Tournament berth. I saw that they were still coached by Kermit Davis and said no, they’re headed for a bottom-four SEC finish.
And they did. Things actually looked promising after an 8-3 start — and then they lost to Division I newcomer North Alabama right before Christmas and things went into a tailspin. That started a 2-15 stretch which ended with Davis’s firing; interim coach got a win over LSU in his first game, which ultimately kept Ole Miss out of the SEC’s basement, but the season ended with a 3-15 SEC record — the Rebels’ worst conference record since 1991.
In comes Chris Beard. Beard took over a 13-18 Little Rock team and promptly went 30-5, then took over Texas Tech and had them in the Elite Eight in his second year and the national championship game in his third. Then he took over Texas and had the Longhorns 7-1 and ranked seventh in the country in his second year and then ... uhhhhhhh... things happened.
Anyway, we’re not going to rehash all the details here, but let’s just say Ole Miss hiring him is controversial. The basketball stuff is unimpeachable, but we’re just not going to pretend like there is absolutely zero chance that this will crash and burn. Four players return from last season’s team and Beard has brought in an influx of talent that’s really just an island of misfit toys, but he can coach so this team is getting a nonzero amount of preseason hype. Two of his best portal acquisitions, by the way, are still waiting to find out if the NCAA will
ignore its change to policies regarding two-time transfers for no fucking reason just because a school threatened to sue get a waiver to play immediately, and I’m not going to sit here and assume that they will.
|Player||ORating||Min %||Poss %||PPG||RPG||APG||How left|
|Player||ORating||Min %||Poss %||PPG||RPG||APG||How left|
|Amaree Abram||92.9||52.1||23.4||8||2||2||transfer/Georgia Tech|
|Robert Allen||101.3||40.1||18.2||4.4||3.4||1.2||transfer/North Texas|
|Daeshun Ruffin||100.5||15.1||32||9.5||1.1||3.2||transfer/Jackson State|
|Malique Ewin||95.1||6.3||15||1.4||1.1||0.4||transfer/South Florida|
So uh, remember how I said that three of the top five recruits in Ole Miss history signed under Kermit Davis? Well, two of those were Daeshun Ruffin and Malique Ewin. Ruffin missed most of last season with an injury and Ole Miss went 2-9 with him in the lineup. Ewin basically disappeared about halfway through the season after reportedly being involved in a fatal car accident (and by the way, he’s already gone from South Florida.) Amaree Abram was also a top-100 recruit out of high school.
The rest of the losses are whatever; most of them were one-year fixes that Davis brought in from the transfer portal in hopes of salvaging last season.
The third of the top recruits that Davis signed, 6’4” senior Matthew Murrell (14.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.6 apg) is still here. But Murrell weirdly regressed from his sophomore to junior year, a big part of Ole Miss’s struggles; his scoring average went up from 12.1 to 14.4, but that was mostly a result of taking more shots. His shooting percentages went down, and he wound up shooting 43.3 percent on twos and 30.4 percent on threes. That’s bad. Also returning are 6’4” sophomore TJ Caldwell (4.7 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 1.2 apg), who started seven games but had a ghastly 86.4 Offensive Rating, and 6’5” Robert Cowherd, who redshirted last season.
Where Beard signed some high school recruits (or, really, held on to Davis’s recruits) in the frontcourt, here he went with the “buncha transfers” approach, but the most hyped of them might or might not play. That would be 6’5” junior Brandon Murray (13.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.2 apg at Georgetown), who’s in his third year of college ball and already at his third school after starting his career at LSU. (Murray’s case, I guess, is that both of those schools fired their coach after the season he played for them. This is no longer grounds for a waiver under NCAA rules.) Anyway, whatever the hype, Murray posted a 92.6 Offensive Rating at Georgetown so he was probably more “numbers guy on a bad team” than the hype people wanted to admit, but whatever. 6’2” sophomore Austin Nunez (4.5 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 0.9 apg at Arizona State) was a four-star recruit out of high school who was a role player in his one year at Arizona State. 5’11” junior Jaylen Murray (12.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.3 apg at Saint Peter’s) was a guy who started 11 games last season for a MAAC team. 6’6” fifth-year Allen Flanigan (10.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.5 apg at Auburn) saw his career stall out after averaging 14.3 ppg as a sophomore. These guys aren’t exactly “warm bodies to fill out the roster,” but I can’t make the case that any of them are a game-changer for a 3-15 SEC team — and again, Brandon Murray might not play this year.
6’8” senior Jaemyn Brakefield (11.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.7 apg) has carved out a nice career for himself after transferring closer to home following a sparingly-used freshman season at Duke. Last season saw him shoot 65.8 percent on twos, which is very good, and a respectable 35.1 percent on threes. Even with all the additions to the roster and the return of Murrell, he might be Ole Miss’s best player.
In theory, Ole Miss has a solid pairing at center with 7’5” fifth-year Jamarion Sharp (7.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 0.2 apg at Western Kentucky), who averaged an absurd 4.4 blocks per game in two seasons at WKU, and 7’0” senior Moussa Cisse (6.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 0.6 apg at Oklahoma State) should provide rim protection — except, like Brandon Murray, Cisse’s a two-time transfer; the former five-star recruit started his college career at Memphis. But per KenPom, he’s ranked in the top 25 in the NCAA in block percentage three years running. Per this article, Cisse’s case for a waiver is even sketchier than Murray’s:
By the letter of the law, Moussa Cisse should be forced to sit out a year. But Cisse could try for a mental health waiver because he was on the Oklahoma State team that was hammered with a highly-controversial postseason ban in 2021-22 that Mike Boynton called “unfathomable” and “incredibly unjust and unfair.”
At least Murray has “got two coaches fired” on his resume. If Cisse is ineligible, that leaves three freshmen — 6’8” Rashaud Marshall, 6’8” Jacob Gazzo, and 6’9”, 195-pound Cameron Barnes — in the frontcourt. Marshall was at least a four-star recruit; Gazzo didn’t even draw a ranking from 247 Sports, and Barnes... well, let’s just say 6’9” and 195 pounds is not the size of an SEC power forward.
Yeah, I don’t know who Ole Miss will choose between the two transfer point guards (Nunez and Jaylen Murray), and I assume they’ll run some form of a three-guard offense with Brandon Murray (if eligible) and Flanigan functioning as a de facto three, if only because the frontcourt is so thin. Likewise, the frontcourt is fairly easy to figure out with Sharp and Cisse (again, if eligible) rotating at center and Marshall playing spot minutes behind Brakefield.
Normally I don’t say a ton about the buy games, but Ole Miss has a couple of tricky ones early on against Eastern Washington (November 10) and Sam Houston (November 17), decent-ish mid-majors that could give them a fight (and, if they lose, might be an early sign that they’re headed for a bad year.) A trip to Temple (November 22) and NC State in the ACC/SEC Challenge (November 28) likewise could be early warning signs; a home game against Memphis (December 2), if all goes well in November, would be a chance to make a statement. A visit to UCF (December 10) is another one that could go sideways; neutral-site games against Cal (December 16, in San Antonio) and Southern Miss (December 23, in Biloxi) also seem loseable. The floor for the nonconference record is unusually low because there are few automatic wins.
In SEC play, Ole Miss draws Mississippi State, Auburn, Texas A&M, Missouri, and South Carolina twice.
If you can’t tell, I’m not buying that Chris Beard will immediately change Ole Miss’s fortunes — not because I don’t think he’s a good coach, but because this roster still looks very messy, and it’s an open question whether possibly two starters will even play this season.
Beard, by himself, will probably prevent Ole Miss from being as dreadful as they’ve been the last two years. But even at Texas Tech, his first team wasn’t that good — finishing with an 18-14 record. It took him a year to get things going. Granted, that wasn’t in the age of the transfer portal, but then this isn’t a great portal haul. It’s “the ninth-ranked transfer class in the country” but when I actually dig into it, it looks more like a bunch of salvage jobs and spare parts.
The predictions that Chris Beard will get Ole Miss to the NCAA Tournament, or close to it, in his first year come off more as respect for Beard than they look like anyone has really taken a hard look at this roster — and particularly when you account for the fact that it might be down a couple of players. Beard has never had a losing season in eight years as a Division I coach; I expect that to change this season.
Prediction: 14-17 (5-13 SEC)