Ole Miss enters the NCAA Tournament losing five of its last seven games.
These losses were not just to teams like then-No. 7 Tennessee and then-No. 6 Kentucky. Three of these losses came to non-tournament teams in South Carolina and Arkansas during the regular season and an early second round exit in the SEC tournament to Alabama.
The Rebels (20-12) enter Columbia, South Carolina, ranked as a No. 8 seed and prepare to face off against an equally struggling No. 9 seed in Oklahoma. The Sooners (19-13) entered conference play with just two losses, but have faltered to a 7-11 record since. Both hope to find the success they found on the court early in the season before they face off in the first round of the tournament.
Early Season Triumphs Lead to Down-the-Stretch Stumbles
The Rebels entered SEC play with a 10-2 record but managed to win just 10 more games in the rest of their 20 game conference schedule. Though they struggled, their play was highlighted by two victories over SEC-Tournament champions Auburn which was enough to propel them in the tournament for the ninth time in program history. The Rebels were preseason favorites to finish last, but first-year head coach Kermit Davis has exceeded all expectations getting his team to the tournament for the first time since 2015 and inking a new four-year extension with Ole Miss along the way.
The Sooners, on the other hand, struggled even worse in the late stretch of their season, dropping 10 of their last 16 including a five-game losing streak. A late win over Kansas on March 6 was Oklahoma’s final push which got it in the tournament.
“We hit a little slump. Hit a wall,” Sooners grad-transfer Miles Reynolds said in an ESPN article. “I knew we were going to get out of it. We won the games we needed to win, and now it’s a clean slate.”
Reynolds is one of two grad-transfers for Oklahoma which have helped solidify a spot in the tournament for his team. Led by junior Kristian Doolittle and Christian James, Doolittle is averaging 11.2 points and 7 rebounds per game this season, while James holds a team-high 14.4 points per game to go with 6.3 rebounds.
The Rebels are Spearheaded By Their Guards
Ole Miss is led by the three-guard trio of Breein Tyree, Terence Davis and Dovontae Shuler who average more than half of the team’s total points per game. Tyree leads all players with 18.2 points per game while Davis and Shuler fall not far behind with 15.1 and 10.2 points, respectively. The Rebels will need big performances out of their key guards to pull off what has historically been a toss-up match in the NCAA Tournament.
According to ESPN, in the past 136 matchups between No. 8 and No. 9 seeds, each seed has won and lost 68 times. Therefore, since 1985 the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds have split the series evenly.
A tournament stat can’t define a game better than this one, which finds two equally-skilled teams sputtering into the tournament in a true toss-up pairing.