Considering the Rebels' limited success under Andy Kennedy, the team seems to be facing a relatively high amount of expectations heading into 2009-10.
The Rebels have overachieved under Kennedy, this much is true. After struggling for years at the bottom of the SEC West, Kennedy took the team in his first year at the helm to 21 wins and its first postseason appearance in five years.
This, however, was in a downturn in the conference's strength. In fact, Kennedy has yet to finish above .500 in the league, or make the NCAA Tournament.
Most agree Kennedy has coaching talent, but off-the-court issues and injuries are holding his teams back, and Ole Miss fans are beginning to wonder when excuses won't be enough to explain the poor performance.
Last year handed the Rebels one of the worst cases of bad luck of any team in the nation.
Sophomore Trevor Gaskins dropped to a knee injury before the season began. Versatile wing Eniel Polynice had to have surgery after playing one game. Eleven games into the season, the Rebels' most important player in Chris Warren also fell to a knee injury and was done for the season.
After the season, Zack Graham underwent surgery after playing most of the season with a patella tendon tear.
And then there was the Cincinnatti incident.
Depending on whose story you believe, the details differ. The facts are that Kennedy was out late, past his team's curfew in fact. He had been drinking, and ordered a cab. Words were exchanged between the cabbie and Kennedy, the police were called. Kennedy was arrested, and is currently on probation.
The cabbie claims Kennedy verbally and physically assaulted him, Kennedy denies this.
The problems didn't end there. Not long after, the head coach's wife filed a lawsuit against the cabbie, claiming the whole fiasco was hurting, among other things, their love-life.
Imagine the jokes he heard after that one.
Regardless, it's easy to see why the Rebels struggled to a 16-15 overall record, 7-9 in the SEC.
With several Rebels returning from injury, suddenly the team is receiving votes for the Top 25 and expectations are growing.
If the team can avoid injury and the injured players can return to their former selves (and that's a big "if"), the Rebels might actually make a push for the postseason.
The Rebels' top scorer, David Huertas, opted to travel back home and play in Puerto Rico's professional league. Malcolm White, who would have been the team's anchor under the basket this season, also decided to leave and transferred to LSU.
Here's a look at the two newcomers for the Rebels.
(No. 25 PF—Four stars—6'9"—205lbs)
Buckner was Tennessee's Mr. Basketball, and set the state's high-school career blocking record. That says enough.
Buckner is a very talented player and is highly athletic for his size. He's quick, handles the ball well, and rebounds tremendously.
On the flip side, his offense needs a lot of refining to be competitive in the SEC. Should start due to the team's lack of talent/depth up front.
(PF—Two stars— 6'9"—235lbs)
Riley also comes in with a reputation for blocking shots, though his career began at the junior college level.
Like Buckner, Riley is a work in progress offensively, but has further to go. Will provide depth.
While the Rebels may be lacking in experienced, talented depth under the basket, the same can not be said for their backcourt. Ranked by many outlets as the best in the league, it will need to carry the squad this year.
Chris Warren : 5'10", 168lb Junior PG
(19.6ppg—1.5rpg—1.63 A/TO—85.5% FT)
Warren has more potential than almost any player in the league. His masterfulness with the basketball sets him apart, and his leadership skills were second last year only to now-departed Florida starter Nick Calathes..
While during his freshman campaign he shot almost 39 percent from behind the arc, that percentage dropped nine percent last season. He only played barely a third of the season last year, but his offensive efficiency should improve to maximize his impact on the floor.
Warren was chosen Second-Team All-SEC by the media pre-season and will start for the Rebels at the point.
Terrico White : 6'5", 213lb Sophomore SG
White was the single most over-hyped player in the league in 2008-09. White had big scoring nights and stepped up in the league, but finished the season with a below-par mark from behind the arc and has yet to prove he can be a reliable threat from deep.
He was forced into the limelight with the team's massive injuries, but simply attempted too many shots at too low a percentage.
All eyes will be on White this coming season, as he was chosen First-Team All-SEC this preseason. He is a force and has the potential to be a great player, but consistency will be a must this season.
Zach Graham : 6'6", 218lb Junior SG
(8.5ppg—3.1rpg—38.2% 3PT—80.0% FT)
Graham is an unheralded shooter who could start at the small forward position this season. He is athletic, a solid rebounder for his position and has an outstanding touch from all areas of the floor.
Murphy Holloway : 6'7", 230lb Sophomore PF
(8.4ppg—6.6rpg—54.8% FG—1.00 A/TO)
Holloway ranked second in the league amongst freshmen last season in double-doubles, with six. His field-goal percentage led all freshmen.
His ball-handling is excellent for a big-man, and even more so for a freshman.
Holloway will need to continue his impressive performances this season, as the Rebels will be relying upon him heavily under the basket.
Eniel Polynice : 6'5", 222lb Junior SF
(6.0ppg—5.0rpg—28.6% FG—66.7% FT)
Polynice is one of the most intrinsic ball-handlers in the league, even better than teammate Chris Warren. He's physical and dynamic, energetic, and a mismatch-creating rebounder.
What he is not, however, is a shooter. In 2007-08, Polynice shot just 27.0 percent from three and 50.5 percent from the charity stripe.
His defense is also outstanding, and he will certainly start.
Terrance Henry : 6'9", 202lb Sophomore SF
(4.2ppg—3.6rpg—39.3% FG—71.7% FT)
Henry is yet another large guard/small forward in the stable Kennedy has created. His speed in the open floor is his strength, though his range is limited. If he can find some range from the three-point line, he could turn into a solid contributor.
DeAundre Cranston : 6'9", 260lb Senior PF
(3.1ppg—4.2rpg—45.1% FG—18 ast)
Cranston is Ole Miss' most efficient rebounder, and is useful if not for that very reason. He also has a decent stroke from most anywhere on the floor except the charity stripe oddly enough, where he shot just 50.0 percent last season.
Will Bogan : 6'1", 172lb Sophomore SG
(2.3ppg—0.8rpg—34.1% 3PT—1.22 A/TO)
Bogan is a serviceable guard with a good handle on the basketball. His shooting is poor, but is a capable three-shooter when he's not closely guarded. Started seven games a year ago, but shouldn't see nearly as much playing time with his team healthy.
Kevin Cantinol : 6'10", 255lb Sophomore C
(0.8ppg—0.7rpg—70.0% FG—1.5 A/TO)
Cantinol is one of the meekest and most understated players in the league, ranking amongst the league's worst in minutes per field-goals attempted. If he were to be more assertive, he could give some meaningful minutes to the team.
Trevor Gaskins wasn't included because he didn't play a year ago, though he is a very capable shooter that could, and should, have a big impact for Ole Miss this season.
As is obvious, the play of Holloway will be the X-factor for the Rebels this season. The team should naturally struggle with rebounding, and Holloway absolutely must play consistently, and with energy for the Rebels to pose a danger to opposing teams.
Cupcakes : Arkansas-Little Rock (H), Alabama St. (H), TAMCC (H), Arkansas St. (A), Southern Miss (H), McNeese St. (H), Centenary (H), Jacksonville St. (H), UCF (H)
Real Games : Indiana (N), UTEP (N)
Marquee Matchups : West Virginia (A)
Opposite Division : Georgia (A), Tennessee (A), South Carolina (H), Kentucky (A), Vanderbilt (H), Florida (H)
Predicted Result : (18-10, 8-8), NIT
Analysis : The Rebels will suffer because of this schedule for two reasons. First of all, the team's RPI will be greatly harmed because of the lack of decent opponents. Secondly, Ole Miss' draw against the opposing division is not favorable, as they will play two of the division's top three teams on the road.
Points : 66.93 percent (7th—SEC Avg: 73.81 percent)
Rebounds : 69.40 percent (8th—SEC Avg: 75.80 percent)
While expectations are increasing in Oxford, the reality isn't friendly. The team is uni-dimensional and has no depth under the basket. The non-conference schedule is weak. The conference schedule isn't friendly.
If Holloway turns into an All-SEC caliber player and the Rebels avoid injuries, the NIT is a good goal for the Rebels and an NCAA bid isn't out of the question.
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