Ole Miss finds itself on the right side of the bubble in 2013 after being close for so many years under head coach Andy Kennedy. Currently, many of the prognosticators have the Rebels firmly in the field of 64, somewhere around the neighborhood of a No. 10 seed (via ESPN).
Andy Kennedy is nearing the end of his seventh season at Ole Miss and is tied with Country Graham in career wins (144). Most Ole Miss fans don’t even know who Country Graham is, which tells you how little basketball history exists at Ole Miss. (He was the head coach at OM from 1950 to 1962, before the Tad Pad was built.)
In the last six seasons, Coach Kennedy has had a lot of success:
- Five 20-win seasons
- Five postseason berths
- Most victories by an Ole Miss coach in a five-year period (105)
- First coach in school history to record four 20-plus win seasons (Ole Miss had seven total 20-plus win seasons in its program’s history prior to Kennedy)
- Reached 100 wins faster than any coach in the program’s history (158 games)
- First coach since R.L. Sullivan (1920-25) to lead Ole Miss to five straight winning seasons
- Highest winning percentage (105-64, .621) of any coach through five years
- Most SEC regular-season wins (38) by a coach in his first five years
- Second coach to lead the program to four playoff appearances in five seasons.
Kennedy has also won SEC Coach of the Year (2007) and has a pair of SEC Western Division titles (2007, 2010).
But (and when you say “but” after all those facts, it tends to erase everything before the word), he has not broken through the threshold of the NCAA tournament.
In order for a school to have even a snowball's chance in a Mississippi summer of winning a national championship, you have to get invited to the NCAA’s final tournament at the end of the year.
Barring winning the conference tournament at season's end, you have to be one of top 37 teams in the nation to receive an “at-large” bid. Ole Miss has come close under Andy Kennedy, but has never actually been good enough to be one of those 37 teams.
Truthfully, only a handful of the total 68 teams invited to the tournament, including all play-in games and conference winners, actually have a chance to win the tournament; but you have to be invited to even start pretending.
No one has to tell this to Andy Kennedy.
He knows the pressure is on and probably also realizes he would not be coaching at many others schools after six seasons without getting to the tournament.
Kennedy does have some handicaps at Ole Miss that all fans must recognize. First, Ole Miss has no basketball tradition to promote. There are few impressive banners hanging from the rafters at Tad Smith Coliseum.
The SEC in general is down and not a serious basketball league. So it makes it difficult to reach out to the Midwest or more urban areas and pull in quality talent to play in a mediocre-to-poor league.
And the hardest obstacle for Kennedy is the coliseum itself. Ole Miss has the worst basketball facility in the league; It’s a relic, a dinosaur, and immediately shows the level of support (or lack of support) basketball receives at Ole Miss to recruits.
So, now that the season is getting tough, the guys are getting tired (they have lost four out of the last six). What does Andy Kennedy have to do to push this team to a new level they have never personally reached?
My opinion is they have to ignore the drama.
Ignore the pressure, ignore the comments, ignore the newspapers and most of all, use the past failures to play faster and loser than they have in the past, especially in the post.
Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner have to be the leaders of this team over the next six games. When these two guys are playing at a high level, taking shots and getting rebounds, it opens up the perimeter for guys like Marshall Henderson.
Over the last few weeks, shooting guard Marshall Henderson had had to lead this team and has become the first option instead of the kick-out option, and he is not having as much success from behind the arc. In the Georgia game, Henderson made only one of his seven three-point attempts.
Coach Kennedy can’t let this team settle for three-point shots. Even with Henderson, the highest scorer in the league, it’s still a lower-percentage shot than a Murphy Holloway layup.
The seniors have to re-establish their leadership and take control of this team. If Kennedy can get the frontcourt to loosen up and exert their will early in these next six games, you will see this squad break through to perhaps new heights never before seen by a Rebel team.