Information and analysis on Ole Miss' notable players includes contributions from college basketball freelance writer and researcher Nathan Giese.
The excitement surrounding Vanderbilt basketball's 2018-2019 season is considerable, but anyone who follows college sports and understands their rhythms knows that one of the great temptations -- and mistakes -- committed by young athletes is the act of looking ahead to the future instead of paying attention to the present moment.
Before the 2018-2019 Bryce Drew Crew can produce the season many hope for, this locker room -- particularly the young men within it who will remain in the fold next season -- needs to carry a culture which can endure, be improved upon, and ultimately reinforce the good habits which lead to a sustained confidence which won't crack in moments of adversity.
Yes, it would be hyperbolic and overly dramatic to say that Vanderbilt MUST win Saturday's game at Ole Miss in order to set up next season. This is not make-or-break, and an incomplete VU team would hardly exist in a state of crisis with a loss in Oxford against the only other SEC team which has "competed" with Vanderbilt for the dubious distinction of "worst team in the SEC" this season. A loss here would not undercut Vanderbilt's goals or cripple the program. It is not ESSENTIAL to win this game.
But... it would help.
A win would enable Vanderbilt to walk away from this season with one true road win. It would offer a small but real moment returning players could point to as proof that a VU team can become more than Memorial Magic.
It is true that the young pups will probably be the leaders on next season's team -- at least in terms of scoring and taking on crunch-time responsibilities. In that sense, what happens in Oxford could be viewed as entirely irrelevant to the Vanderbilt project and Drew's aim to make the program a heavyweight in the SEC. Yet, teams need role players, and one can readily appreciate the value of having next season's role players walking into a hostile building and being able to tell the younger stars in a sideline huddle during a timeout, "I know what it's like to struggle on the road, but we managed to find a solution last season," even if that "solution" is the bread-crumb-size sample of a single game against a relatively mediocre opponent.
Finding a way to win just one road game -- as meager as that accomplishment might seem -- would enable Vanderbilt to enter next season without a completely barren track record.
As a program tries to evolve and become everything it is capable of becoming under Drew, not having to answer questions for several months about "the 2018 road O-fer" would help. It would be one set of distractions -- one prolonged narrative -- tossed to the side or, at the very least, reduced in size.
This game against Ole Miss isn't a matter of "finishing the season strong" or "building confidence for next season." Those are broad and easy generalizations. This is about achieving a specific task, not "creating a different vibe." This is about being able to point to tangible evidence that a team can win in an enemy lair, so that returning players can learn more about what it takes to win in a wider range of basketball circumstances.
If Vanderbilt loses, the new recruiting class will still inject hope into next season, so no one should be torn up about one more road defeat. Yet, in the spirit of focusing on "the now" -- as the spiritual gurus advise us to do -- there won't be another chance for VU to walk away from this season with a true road win.
This really is "Last Chance Gulch," a challenge to a full team, but especially those who will join the touted prospects Bryce Drew is bringing to Nashville next autumn.
Here are notes on Ole Miss' notable players:
Deandre Burnett: Leading the team with 13.8 points per game, Burnett does most of his damage in pick-and-roll situations, where he is converting 37 percent of his opportunities. He is a 38 percent shooter, 36 percent from three-point range and 80 percent at the free throw line. Burnett is shooting 39 percent on his spot-up attempts. He has dished out 115 assists.
Defensively, Burnett is holding opponents to 35 percent from the field. He’s not one to go after steals very often and settles in on defense, trying to cut off drives.
Breein Tyree: He averages 10.6 points per game but hits just 34 percent from three on 121 attempts. He is converting just under 40 percent of his shot attempts overall. Ole Miss runs a lot of pick-and-roll action; that’s where much of Tyree’s attempts have come from. Nobody on the Rebels robustly clashes the glass and Tyree is no exception. He does have 81 assists and 22 steals.
Terrence Davis: Second on the team in scoring (13.6), he leads the team in rebounding (6.2) and blocks (27). Davis had taken 180 threes but made just 32 percent of his attempts, so he’s a threat to shoot the shot but not necessarily to hit many of them. He’s almost exclusively a spot-up shooter but, again, not able to hit many of those attempts, at least not to the point where defenses need to pay extra attention to him. Davis is okay defensively, but does not excel in any one area to add value to his defensive portfolio.
Bruce Stevens: This is yet another double-digit scorer for Ole Miss (10.4 per game), Stevens is by far the most efficient offensive player the team has. He’s hitting barely under 51 percent of his total shots and taken the second-fewest threes among players in the regular rotation. He’s also second on the team in rebounding with 5.1 boards per game. Stevens is average defensively, which isn’t surprising considering Ole Miss’ season and the recent spate of games -- particularly against Missouri and Kentucky -- in which the Rebels have become involved in shootouts.
Markel Crawford: He mixes things up offensively more than the rest of the regular players. His highest two offensive shot attempt totals have come in transition and on spot-up jumpers. He has hit just under 40 percent of his shot attempts, 45 percent in isolation.
Crawford leads the team with 36 steals on the year but is giving up 42 percent shooting to his opponents. His defensive numbers are very, very poor across a wider range of categories, the steals being his only redeeming quality at that end of the floor.
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