South Region First Round Prediction & Free Pick: #8 Ole Miss vs. #9 Oklahoma

Date | AuthorJonathan Willis

Last Updated: 2019-03-21

Eight-nine match-ups are traditionally toss-ups. While every other lower seed has won at least 61 percent of their match-ups in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, No. 8 seeds have a razor thin 69-67 edge over No. 9 seeds. Accordingly, the oddsmakers have the South Region First Round title between the No. 8 Ole Miss Rebels and No. 9 Oklahoma Sooners as a virtual toss-up.

This will be the first game in Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, South Carolina on Friday, March 22. Tip-off is scheduled for 12:40 p.m. ET, and this game will be broadcast on truTV. Ole Miss is a one-point favorite per the NCAA betting odds, and the over/under has been set at 142.5. The winner of this game will take on Virginia in the second round on Sunday unless the Cavaliers collapse as a No. 1 seed for the second year in a row.

Tournament History

For a power conference school, Mississippi has long been a lightweight in college basketball. The Rebels have little pedigree in the NCAA Tournament, advancing past the first round of the tournament just three times, and they have only made the Sweet Sixteen once back in 2001. They were a No. 3 seed then and were nearly upset by both No. 14 Iona and No. 6 Notre Dame before bowing out to Arizona. Ole Miss last made the tournament four years ago, beating BYU in the First Four before losing to Xavier two days later.

The Sooners have finished runner-up at the NCAA Tournament twice, but they have yet to win a national championship. They’ve had some recent legends with Blake Griffin, Buddy Hield, and Trae Young all playing at least one season in Norman, yet a Final Four appearance is the most they have been able to muster. That came in 2016 when Hield, Isaiah Cousins, and Jordan Woodward led Oklahoma to the Final Four only to get blasted 95-51 by Villanova.

How They Got Here

It was a little surprising that Mississippi was seen as lock to make the NCAA Tournament so early. The Rebels’ only good non-conference win was against Baylor, and they lost to both Butler, Cincinnati, and Iowa State. Two wins over Auburn and a victory over Mississippi State were enough to give them a bid even though they lost four in a row at one point and lost five of their last seven to close out the season.

The Sooners are the only team in the country that didn’t play a Quad 4 opponent. Oklahoma’s schedule was jampacked with quality, and that earned the Sooners an at-large bid despite a 19-13 record with a 7-11 mark in Big 12 play. Even a bad loss to West Virginia in the first round of the conference tournament didn’t really ding them given their strength of schedule, and they still earned a No. 9 seed.

Preview

Neither one of these teams ended the season on a high note, and both statistical profiles are the definition of marginal.
Something to note is how bad Mississippi has been at defending the three-point line. The Rebels are allowing opponents to hit 37.2 percent of their three-point attempts on the season, and that does not portend well for their hopes of getting through the opening weekend.

The big question will be whether or not Oklahoma can take advantage of that weakness. The Sooners take fewer threes than almost any team in the country, and they are an average three-point shooting team. Oklahoma is hitting just 34.2 percent of its threes as a team this season, and Christian James, Brady Manek, and Aaron Calixte are all hitting right around that average.

Breein Tyree, Terence Davis, and Devontae Shuler are the primary options for Ole Miss. All three players are averaging double digits in points this season, and all three are playing over 30 minutes a game. These three guards are all above average three-point shooters, and they can make you pay from range.

Pick: Ole Miss -1

I was all set to pick the Sooners in a minor upset until I looked at one last metric. Getting to the line and hitting your free throws is critical during March Madness, and Ole Miss is significantly better than Oklahoma here. The Rebels are sixth in the nation at free throw shooting, sinking 78.3 percent of their freebies, while the Sooners are one of the worst teams in the NCAA Tournament in this department, hitting just 69.1 percent of their three rows. Give me the Rebels to nip the Sooners in a close one.

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