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Underestimate Ole Miss at your own peril

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Every year media and SEC fans downplay the Ole Miss basketball program, and each year Andy Kennedy and company exceed their expectations. Not this year... Previewing the #8 Ole Miss Rebels.

Ole Miss Preview

#8 Ole Miss Rebels

Last Season: 20-12 (10-8) #71 in KenPom

My Prediction: 9 - 9 (8th in conference)

RedCupRebellion’s Prediction: 11 - 7 (t-5th in conference)

The Masses Prediction: 7.3 - 10.7 (11th in conference)

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Mississippi Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

HEAD COACH: Andy Kennedy | 11th season 212 - 125

Last year I called Andy Kennedy the chameleon coach, and he showed his ability to inexplicably win games with a roster that was less than impressive. Sure they had Stefan Moody and Sebastian Saiz, but more importantly they had Andy Kennedy. Kennedy and Ole Miss is the wildcard of the SEC at this point. Discount Kennedy at your own peril, he’s goofy and fun off the court, he doesn’t have flashy recruiting classes, and when it comes to naming a style of play you can’t pin Kennedy down. But his teams compete. They defend well and run an efficient offense and always seem to have a guy who can go off on any given night. Now the good news is Ole Miss finally built a facility for basketball which will give Kennedy something to recruit to, because let’s face it, the TadPad wasn’t much to write home about. So give a crafty coach with the ability to coach up his talent and outperform more talented rosters a brand spanking new facility and see if suddenly the recruiting picks up, and the wins increase. Is Kennedy enough of a chameleon to turn Ole Miss into a perennial contender? It would be fun because if nothing else Kennedy’s teams are always entertaining.

SEAT TEMP: COOL

Ole Miss 10 year look
Ole Miss 10 year look

It’s a lot of consistency for the most part without any standout seasons other than their NCAA appearance in 2014, when the Rebs went 27-9. Kennedy has certainly raised the floor for Ole Miss for where a bad season is not winning 20 games, and a good season is much more than that. The Rebels still haven’t broken through completely, with only a single sweet 16 appearance in their record book. Set the over/under at 0.5 for a sweet 16 appearance in the next 5 years and I’d take the over.

WHO’S GONE?

name reason GP %min %pts %ov
Stefan Moody Graduated 31 .831 .304 .348
Tomasz Gielo Graduated 32 .680 .131 .131
Martavious Newby Graduated 30 .647 .060 .112
Anthony Perez Graduated 31 .559 .089 .075
Sam Finley Transfer 17 .165 .035 .023
J.T. Escobar Transfer 16 .062 .008 .010
Terry Brutus Transfer 7 .038 .001 .000
32 .597 .632 .701

Anything I write about who the Rebels lost should start and end with Stefan Moody. Moody took the SEC by storm as a junior college transfer a few years ago and nearly single-handedly propelled Ole Miss back into the NCAA tournament by scoring 23 points a game and improving his 3-point shooting despite nearly doubling his attempts. Not bad. The tantalizing saga of Anthony Perez comes to a close, Perez had such potential but was never able to completely put it together so instead he had a decent career but nothing too special. Tomasz Gielo came on late as a stretch option in the post and was highly productive shooting from deep the last 10 or so games of the season. Newby is a guy who might be missed if only because he was a highly effective player running the point which allowed Moody to run off the ball. Neither Brutus, Escobar or Finley provided much off the bench for the Rebels last year, so losing them to transfer isn’t that big of a deal.

WHO’S BACK?

name year pos GP %min %pts %ov
Sebastian Saiz senior post 26 .574 .126 .074
Rasheed Brooks senior wing 32 .682 .111 .124
Marcanvis Hymon junior cf 32 .438 .081 .053
Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey sophomore cg 21 .197 .032 .032
Terence Davis sophomore cg 19 .101 .015 .013
Jake Coddington senior cf 10 .020 .002 .001
Deandre Burnett junior cg REDSHIRT -- Transfer (Miami)
32 .402 .632 .299
NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Texas A&M
Sebastian Saiz sat out part of last year with an eye injury was is a plus big when healthy.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Sebastian Saiz | SENIOR | POST

Good news in a league where interior play is important, Sebastian Saiz is coming back. Saiz is a potential double-double each night he’s on the floor. He’s a mobile big man with a great skill set and one of the most underrated players in the league. Saiz was slowed last year by a eye injury, but he’s steadily improved each season and is ready for a breakout season this year, and it couldn’t come at a better time with the Rebels short on returning scoring. He is listed at 6’9 but plays more like a 6’11 due to a great wingspan and a mature set of post moves.

The rest of the returnees are an interesting mixed bag. There’s actually a sneaky amount of talent and guys who have individually had their own moments. Rasheed Brooks was counted on for nearly 30 minutes a game last year, he was a bit of a hot and cold player but one who could explode offensively. If he can find consistency Brooks could be an important player in another underrated Ole Miss team. Marcanvis Hymon and Donte Fitzpatrick will be asked to take on larger roles and both are capable. Jake Coddington found a few minutes here and there, as did Terence Davis but neither played a huge role. Davis can be an effective role guy if he can win more minutes.

NCAA Basketball: Miami at Pittsburgh
Deandre Burnett will be looking to make a splash in Oxford after sitting out last season.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

DeAndre Burnett | JUNIOR | COMBO GUARD

If you’re scouring the roster for breakout candidates, one at the top of my list is Burnett. After a solid freshman season at Miami, Burnett, the brother of Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, decided to transfer to Ole Miss. He was a 4-star recruit out of high school so Burnett was coveted by a lot of teams because he’s a more than capable scorer, and the Rebels will be counting on the emergence of Burnett as a go-to guy this year, and if he delivers it’s easy to see Ole Miss surpassing expectations in the league.

WHO’S NEW?

class player ht wt rating ranking pos
Fr Breein Tyree 6'2 180 178 CG
Fr Nate Morris 6'9 240 186 POST
Fr Karlis Silins 6'10 225 - POST
So Dominik Olejniczak 7'0 240 TRANSFER -- Drake POST
Jr Justas Furmanavicius 6'6 215 - CF
Jr Cullen Neal 6'5 195 TRANSFER -- New Mexico CG

Andy Kennedy filled some needs and one big immediate need with the signing of Cullen Neal. Neal is the son of Craig Neal the head coach at New Mexico, where Cullen played two seasons (and a small portion of a third) before graduating and picking Mississippi. Neal is the trademark for a coach’s son, a good shooter and a smart heady ball player. Neal has two years to play and is immediately eligible, so he should factor in (likely as a starter) right away. Breein Tyree is an athletic point guard who is SEC ready from a physical standpoint, and he’s got a chance to be the Rebels point guard of the future. Nate Morris is another physical player at 6’9 and 240 lbs, with Ole Miss being short on bigs he could jump in early. Justas Furmanavicius is a strong wing who could press inside if required. The last catch was Dominik Olejniczak from Drake who is a skilled big who will need to sit out due to transfer rules but will factor largely into the plans going forward.

DEPTH CHART

Point Guard Combo Guard Wing
DeAndre Burnett Cullen Neal Rasheed Brooks
Breein Tyree Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey Justas Furmanavicius
Combo Forward Post
Marcanvis Hymon Sebastian Saiz
Nate Morris Karlis Silins

I actually like this roster more than I thought I was going to. Sure they’re without Stefan Moody but there’s still a lot of good players. Where I’m a little worrisome is where these guys are gonna play. There’s talent, but there’s a lot of positionless guys, so this is pretty much how I’d go about lining them up. I think you start with your best five and supplement with the next group.

SCHEDULE

My Projected Record: 18 - 12 | KenPom Projected Record: 18 - 12

NCAA Basketball: West Virginia at Baylor Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Non-Con: Tennessee-Martin, UMass, Oral Roberts (n), Loyola/St. Joe’s (n), Memphis, @ Virginia Tech, Bradley, Baylor

The possibility of NC State or Creighton exists in the Virgin Islands Paradise Jam, getting either of those schools would be a good barometer. But this isn’t a slate of teams you’d think the Rebels would go .500 against. Memphis will be tough, but that’s a home game, and travelling to Virginia Tech will certainly be a challenge as Buzz Williams has things buzzing in Blacksburg. The SEC/Big12 Challenge brings Baylor into Oxford and the Bears are always good, but beatable. If Ole Miss can prevent a big early let down like they’ve had in previous seasons I think you’ve got enough winnable games to build some momentum into the conference season.

Conference: South Carolina (2x), Tennessee (2x), Mississippi State (2x), Missouri (2x), Auburn (2x), Kentucky, @ Florida, @ Vanderbilt, @ Arkansas

One reason to get on board with Ole Miss is a totally manageable conference schedule. There aren’t any home-and-home opponents they couldn’t potentially sweep if things went their way. I’d imagine though a 7-3 record against these five is where the Rebels need to be if they’re serious about post-season play. You’ll probably bank a loss vs Kentucky, and certainly having to play on the road vs Florida, Vandy and Arkansas won’t be easy. Its the tough road slate that keeps me from going all in, but certainly 10-8 or 11-7 is achievable.

OVERVIEW

Start with a scorer, surround him with guys that can defend and rebound and make open shots at a reasonable clip, and you’ve got Ole Miss the last few years. Moody elevated the Ole Miss offense but he still had some solid pieces around him. Marcanvis Hymon and Sebastian Saiz both improved their numbers over the previous year and junior college transfer Rasheed Brooks found a way to impact the game in multiple ways. Then playing behind Moody was a talented freshman Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey who got better down the stretch and played well throughout the SEC slate. Overall there may have been some who were disappointed in the Rebels season a year ago, but once again an Andy Kennedy team surpassed their preseason expectations and managed a strong 10-8 conference record.

Ole Miss Shot Chart 2015-16
Mississippi’s returning players shot chart

When you consider the changes Ole Miss goes through on a semi-annual basis, Kennedy has a roster few in college basketball are looking at as one who can compete. But I see the path. There may be a bunch of qualifiers and if’s lobbed around them, but things could very easily break the Rebels way. Burnett and Neal will be very tough on the perimeter, Saiz shoulld be solid inside, and there is depth to fill in around them. I like Hymon and his ability to attack the rim as a rebounder and finisher, and you can expect growth from the younger guys. I certainly don’t see a team that should be competing for the bottom of the league as some have projected.

Those are a lot of ifs though. The Rebels lost the third most minutes, points and offensive value in comparison to the rest of the league. When you compound losing the amount of production they did with the lack of interior depth behind Saiz and the outlook could get saucy with the right mixture of injuries or uneven play. You could say this about any team, but looking behind Saiz, I’d like to see another reliable big and they just don’t have anything proven. To see Ole Miss do well is to trust Andy Kennedy. He’s been there forever now, and he’s done a great job in a place that historically doesn’t win a lot.

The Rebels have a new home after retiring the Tad-Pad last year. The Pavilion at Ole Miss is a beautiful facility and provides the team and it’s coaches a recruiting tool they haven’t had until now. And this off season it’s paying off as Andy Kennedy is already landing bigger recruits than he’s won to date. No longer having to ignore the main facility in which they play, Kennedy can now brag about one more thing, he can get you shots, he can get you wins in the SEC, and you can do this all in a nice pretty new building. The Rebs aren’t super deep this year, but that depth is going to grow in the near future. If they’re going to outplay expectations they’re going to have to avoid injury and dipping too far into their depth chart.

Is Ole Miss an NCAA team? No, I don’t think so. I think there are probably 7 teams in the SEC with legitimate NCAA hopes and Ole Miss isn’t one of them. A good season for the Rebels this year would be making the NIT which is very possible. They’ll have to avoid injuries and upsets in the non-conference schedule, but there’s no reason this can’t be Kennedy’s 9th 20 win season in Oxford.


About the preview: Each SEC site was asked to submit one representative to pick the entire league schedule game by game. Because these are game by game picks, they often tend to be a bit of a rosier picture of each teams potential. Each rep’s picks are reflected in the record prediction for the site listed at the top of the page, and within “the Masses” picks as well. Included in “the Masses” are various SEC media members who made picks at my request also.

If you’d like to submit your picks, here is the Google Form we used:


GLOSSARY

GP - Games Played

%min - percentage of total available minutes played, does not account for time missed due to injury

%pts - percentage of teams points scored

%ov - offensive team value, simple formula of (%points + %rebounds) - %turnovers/*100, similar to Offensive Rating but places more value on performance to the team