By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – We’re four games into the SEC basketball schedule – a quarter of the way home and enough time for even sports writers to spot a trend.
Here’s one that I’ve seen. Ole Miss really isn’t very good on defense.
My eyewitness accounts have been enough for me to reach this conclusion, but the numbers bear it out too.
In league-only competition, the Rebels are a distant 12th among the 12 teams, allowing opponents to shoot 51.9 percent on average.
Against SEC teams, Ole Miss has held no opponent to less than 47 percent field goal accuracy.
Ten other SEC teams beat that score on an average basis. Tennessee, 10th in the league in field goal defense in conference games, is allowing opponents a 46.9 success rate. The Rebels’ best defensive performance was in the opener at Florida when the Gators shot 47.5 percent.
Georgia shot 63.5 percent against Ole Miss – It’s not easy to do that against air – and did it in Oxford.
There is so much basketball still to be played, so much still on the table, but that’s a double-edged sword. Opportunity remains for this team, yes, but there’s no quick improvement coming, no lock-down defender about to become eligible, no star athlete coming back from injury.
“Our awareness is something that’s been a concern to me, having the awareness of where we’re supposed to be, the attention to detail as it relates to scouting so you know what to anticipate,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said.
You can pick this thing apart and analyze to the point of exhaustion, but the problems comes down to this: It’s physical or it’s mental.
When I look out on the floor, I see guys who can run and jump, so I cast my vote for the latter.
Part of the mental game is moving your feet and getting good position. When that doesn’t happen is when fouls tend to occur, and the Rebels are missing Reggie Buckner for too many crucial minutes. Their best low-post defender, Buckner played only 12 minutes against Vanderbilt before fouling out with more than six minutes remaining. He’s fouled out six times and has reached four fouls six more times.
In the SEC everybody has athletes, so the advantage goes to the athletes who give themselves an edge by being a step ahead, and that comes from studying video, retaining and applying what you learn.
The alarming shot percentages allowed don’t come about because one or two guys aren’t fully awake. It’s more than that, and it’s complicated further by the fact that there’s no real player leader to help rally this team.
That makes the coaching job more difficult, but Kennedy has to find a way to break through.
“It comes down at this level to making sure you’re playing as hard or harder than the opponent and finding a way to make stops,” Kennedy said. “You have to have consecutive stops. It’s not enough to stop them every once in a while, and we have to get more consistent in that area.”
Parrish Alford covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily about Ole Miss athletics at NEMS360.com.