Kermit Davis insists his Mississippi team is feeling “zero” pressure going into this season.
But the heat may be on the Rebels’ fifth-year coach if they don’t show signs of improvement after missing the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season.
Led by guards Daeshun Ruffin and Matthew Murrell, Ole Miss is trying to improve on a 13-19 record that included only four Southeastern Conference wins. The Rebels lost their last five games, but went through an offseason roster overhaul that has Davis optimistic.
“It’s been such an unbelievable group to coach every day,” he said. “The term ‘Forward Rebels’ and ‘next play,’ that’s exactly what we are trying to do.”
Davis has gone 30-42 in SEC games even with a debut season when he led the Rebels to the 2019 NCAA Tournament and was named the league’s coach of the year.
He has brought in four high school signees and four transfers, building what Davis feels like is his deepest team. The Rebels must replace top scorer Jarkel Joiner and leading rebounder Nysier Brooks.
“I think you will see the most athletic, the deepest team and hopefully a hard-playing group that will compete on a national level in our league every night,” Davis said.
Ruffin averaged 12.6 points as a freshman but played in only 14 games before a knee injury that required surgery. He expressed confidence that he would be ready for the start of the season.
“There is no doubt,” Ruffin said. “I definitely feel like I will be ready for when the season starts.”
Davis fortified the front court with four transfer forwards: Jayveous McKinnis (Jackson State), Myles Burns (Loyola New Orleans), Theo Akwuba (Louisiana) and Josh Mballa (Buffalo).
Like Davis, Ruffin is getting good vibes from this team leading up to the season.
“I’ve seen a lot of things from the other guys. I’ve seen maturity, leadership, and attitude changes,” Ruffin said. “I feel like it’s a whole new gym now. Guys are coming in ready to work, locked-in, and the whole mentality has changed.
“Definitely everybody is making the right strides in order for us to be a great team this year.”
MURRELL’S NEXT STEP
Sharpshooter Matthew Murrell was the team’s No. 3 scorer overall but was even better in SEC games, where he averaged a team-best 15.5 points and shot 43% from 3-point range. That included a career-high 31-point outburst in a win over rival Mississippi State.
“(He’s) as good of an athlete at his position as anybody in college basketball,” Davis said. “I think rebounding is the next step. Can he go back and rebound? Can he be one of the elite defenders in our league?”
The Rebels open with four straight home games, starting against Alcorn State on Nov. 7. They also have nonconference games against Stanford, Memphis and Oklahoma State.