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Andy Kennedy moves on after elevating expectations in Mississippi

It remains to be seen whether pushing Kennedy out is the right choice, but it certainly means the next hire is important.

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

I’ve made no bones about my admiration of Andy Kennedy.

He was the longest tenured coach in the SEC heading into the season, steering a program at a school where the sport of basketball was barely even noticed when he took over in 2006. During his 12 year run Kennedy became the winningest coach in program history, routinely dragging a rotting corpse of a program towards the middle and top of the SEC despite a decrepit arena, awful facilities and bottom of the league salary pools.

BUT BUT BUT.... He only went to two NCAA tournaments in his time at Ole Miss, you say?

Take into account that since Kennedy took over Ole Miss, the Rebels ranked LAST in the league in basketball expenses. Of the power six conferences, over the same time span, Ole Miss ranked second to last in spending, ahead of only Butler. Butler, who was in the Horizon league until 2012.

You know the Horizon league right? Youngstown State, Wright State, Detroit and Cleveland State?

So Ole Miss didn’t spend money, and what they they get for it? 245 wins, and more conference wins than any school not named Florida or Kentucky. He did all of this while recruiting players to play at the Tad Smith Coliseum.

Andy Kennedy’s Tenure at Ole Miss

year kenpom conf record
year kenpom conf record
2018 97 4-10
2017 74 10-8
2016 77 10-8
2015* 46 11-7
2014 83 9-9
2013* 34 12-6
2012 95 8-8
2011 76 7-9
2010 48 9-7
2009 92 7-9
2008 50 7-9
2007 60 8-8
NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Mississippi Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Last year the school opened The Pavilion at Ole Miss. They also increased their spending to be more competitive in the league, but still, Kennedy was the lowest paid coach in the league this year. Then last spring Ross Bjork had worked out the details of a contract extension with Kennedy only to be rebuffed by a new chancellor of the school.

Clearly, the Chancellor wanted to see something else from the basketball program after giving Kennedy all of one season in a decent arena and a few seasons of more reasonable spending.

Whatever he wanted to see, Kennedy wasn’t delivering. In the toughest and most competitive seasons during Kennedy’s tenure, the Rebels stumbled and started to fall. A moderate fan base with little history of success started to lose interest, questions were beginning to be asked. So Kennedy made the call himself.

With Kennedy out for good, the Rebels have been in a bit of a free fall. They’ve lost seven in a row and nine of their last 10 games and they just have not gotten the kind of production many expected from their guards which were supposed to be the strength of the Rebels.

Still, a small word of caution: Ole Miss has zero losses outside the kenpom top 100, and only one loss to a team ranked lower than 63. It’s not like the Rebels are getting blown out by bad teams. And they’re still capable of scoring at high rates. Couple this with the fact they’ve lost their head coach for good now and you really don’t know exactly what kind of team you’re going to get.

Are you going to get a team that’s pretty ready to pack it in and go home?

Or do you get a team ignited by the loss of their coach and inspired to save the season?

For Mizzou’s sake, let’s hope it’s more the former.

Projected Starters

  • PG: Breein Tyree v. Kassius Robertson
  • CG: Markel Crawford v. Cullen VanLeer
  • WING: Terence Davis v. Jordan Barnett
  • CF: Marcanvis Hymon v. Kevin Puryear
  • POST: Bruce Stevens v. Jeremiah Tilmon

Much of the previous preview put together by Matt Harris still stands. Ole Miss has tinkered with their lineup and the lineup above is the last one used. Subsequently, the last one used by a man who is no longer the head coach. So we aren’t really sure what the Rebels are going to do to start.

They play eight players more than 40% of their minutes and another more than 30%. So look for plenty from Deandre Burnett, Devontae Shuler, and Justus Furmanavicius. Dominik Olejniczak will also factor in.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Last go around the Rebels had little answer for Kassius Robertson. They also struggled with Jontay Porter. Missouri got two points from Jordan Barnett and three from Cullen VanLeer. So you’re probably going to need to garner more from Barnett to counteract something of a drop from Robertson.

So peg Jordan Barnett as a big key. Also, peg Jeremiah Tilmon as one too. Tilmon is coming off his worst game as a Tigers and an illness that was at least partially responsible for it. He’ll be champing at the bit to wash his hands of the last performance.

This is an important game for a lot of reasons. It’s a game Missouri can’t afford to drop. They’re coming off a loss in a game they almost kind of sort of should have won and didn’t. They’re heading to Rupp Arena on Saturday for their lowest win expectancy left on the schedule. And two reasonably difficult games left after to finish the season out.

So the Tigers have to win this game if they’re still wanting to earn a double-bye in the SEC tournament. Anything less than 3-1 in the last four games probably doesn’t get there.

So win tonight, get to 19-9 and 9-6 in the conference and work from there. But you have to win tonight.