2008-2009 Record: 16-15, 7-9 SEC (t-ninth)
Key Losses: David Huertas (18.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg), Malcolm White (7.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg)
Key Returners: Chris Warren (19.1 ppg, 4.0 apg), Terrico White (13.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg), Zach Graham (8.5 ppg)
Newcomers: Reginald Buckner, DeAngelo Riley
Mississippi had what you might call a hard luck season in 2008-2009.
They lost three players, including star sophomore Chris Warren, to season-ending knee injuries; had their coach involved in a potential hate crime after he allegedly beat up a cabbie in Cincinnati; and then leading scorer David Huertas bolted for pro ball in his native Puerto Rico.
But it wasn't all bad for the Rebels.
If Warren, Eniel Polynice, and Trevor Gaskins hadn't gone down with their injuries, odds are good that Ole Miss never would have found out how talented sophomore Terrico White is.
White has shown a ton of promise, both in being named SEC Freshman of the Year and during his performance with Team USA this summer. Standing 6'5" and 211 lb, White is a terrific all-around athlete - quick and strong, with some bounce. While he is still a bit toolsy, he knows how to score.
If he can improve his understanding of the game—don't settle for as many three's, stop over dribbling, learn off-the-ball defense—White can be a special player at this level.
What is going to help White the most during his sophomore season is the return of point guard Chris Warren, which will allow White to move back to his more natural off-guard spot.
Warren was in the midst of a huge sophomore campaign, averaging 19.6 ppg, when he landed awkwardly on a drive to the rim in the last minute of a loss to Louisville. Warren is small (5'11") but quick and crafty with his dribble, knowing how to get his defender off-balance. He can get into the paint and score but, like White, he has a tendency to settle for tough, deep three's too often.
It will also help to get back Eniel Polynice and Trevor Gaskins.
In '07-'08, Polynice was arguably the Rebels' most versatile player, averaging 10.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, and 4.1 apg. A tough defender and good play maker, Polynice should be an excellent complement to White and Warren in the Rebels' back court.
Gaskins was an all-SEC freshman pick in '07-'08, averaging 5.9 ppg. He can shoot the ball pretty well, and will probably be counted on for an offensive spark off the bench.
Also expected to see time in the back court is 6'6" wing Zach Graham. Graham is the Rebels' best perimeter defender, and during conference play last year he boosted his scoring average from 8.5 ppg to 10.8 ppg.
The inside is where the question marks will be for this team. The Rebels will basically be working with a five man rotation.
The best of the bunch is probably 6'7" Murphy Holloway. A 225 lb bruiser, Holloway is mostly athleticism right now, but he plays with energy to burn and has shown a developing touch on the interior.
I would expect freshman Reginald Buckner to start alongside Holloway. Standing 6'9", Buckner is a phenomenal athlete who was known for his shot-blocking ability in high school. A lefty, Buckner can run the floor like a deer and should provide us with a couple YouTube-worthy moments this season.
Sophomore Terrance Henry and senior DeAundre Cranston should be the first two bigs off the bench for Ole Miss, while JuCo transfer DeAngelo Riley and sophomore Kevin Cantinol should also make a push for minutes.
Ole Miss is probably the second-most talented team in the SEC West, behind Mississippi State. The Rebels have a very good back court, led by Warren and White.
The issue is up front. Holloway is tough, and Buckner could end up being a star at this level, but they really do not go all that deep.
The key to the season is going to be how well Warren, Polynice, and Gaskins recovered from their injuries, and whether or not they can work effectively on the court with White and Graham.
I think these guys have an outside shot at making the NCAA Tournament, but they are going to need to have an impressive resume as they play in the SEC West.