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SEC Tipoff Blog: Foes need to keep guard up vs. Rebels

106 days ago
Kevin Scarbinsky
Photo: Jimmie Mitchell/SEC

Welcome to the SEC Basketball Media Days Blog, your online home for the big news, behind-the-scenes notes and quotes and special moments that make this annual event, held this year in Birmingham, Ala., the unofficial start of college basketball season. Check back for updates each day throughout the week.

Kermit Davis has been in the game too long to not shoot straight. When he says there is "no question" in his mind that Ole Miss is an NCAA Tournament team, the rest of the SEC should pay close attention.

"There's a lot of winning going on at Ole Miss," he said. "We're hoping to keep it going."

The Ole Miss baseball team won the College World Series. The football team has started 7-0. The basketball team will try to carry the baton by returning to the postseason for the third time in five years under Davis.

The Rebels were poised to make a run in February last season after beating Kansas State in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge and winning at LSU, but that victory in Baton Rouge was costly. Freshman point guard Daeshun Ruffin, who had begun to flash the skills that made him the first McDonald's All-American in Ole Miss history, scored 19 points in that game but suffered a torn ACL that ended his season.

From there, Ole Miss dropped nine of its last 10 games, an indication of Ruffin's value. The freshman had scored in double figures in seven of his 10 SEC games, including the last four in a row. The 5-foot-9, 160-pound flash from Jackson, Miss., is almost all the way back from that misfortune, having been cleared in recent weeks for half-court and then full-court full contact.

"He's got a lot of his pop back," Davis said. "It sure is good to have him back. He will be one of the best point guards in the league."

Ruffin will team with junior Matt Murrell to form one of the SEC's most explosive backcourts. Before Ruffin arrived, Murrell had been the highest-ranked recruit signed by the Rebels under Davis, checking in as the No. 39 prospect nationally in the Class of 2020.

As a sophomore last season, the 6-4, 200-pound Murrell scored 20 or more points four times, topped by a 31-point outburst against Mississippi State. He also earned ESPN SportsCenter Top 10 recognition for his windmill dunk against Rider. Davis called Murrell "one of the very best guards in college basketball." Murrell said it's not a coincidence that the Rebels have featured a string of quality backcourt players under Davis.

"Coach Davis runs everything through his guards," Murrell said. "We have high-level guards."

Despite the production and potential of Murrell and Ruffin and the addition of the nation's 12th-ranked high school signing class, the Rebels were picked to finish ninth in the SEC preseason poll.

"That's always how it is with Ole Miss basketball," Murrell said. "People always look past us."

Listening to Davis, Murrell and Ruffin suggests that would be a mistake.