Opportunity #2 of three to get a win against some bad teams before we have to start playing good teams again.
Say hello to the Ole Miss Rebels
Andy Kennedy has the Ole Miss program doing pretty well these days. Despite a shortage of facilities to boast about in recruiting, he's assembled a solid record during his time in Oxford, and the last few years have been standout seasons for the Rebels. This season, the Rebels are slumping a bit, but they don't have the depth they've had in the past, and their leading All-SEC performer Stefan Moody has been dealing with some injuries preventing him from playing to his capability. Still the Rebels are 13-8 and ranked 101 in KenPom, and with a 3-5 record in conference, they're looking to get one game closer to .500 against the Tigers tonight. The Tigers catch a small break in that it looks like Sebastian Saiz isn't going to be playing tonight, Saiz is a skilled center and the second leading scorer.
The Rebels have lost 5 of their last 6 games, with their only win being a home win against the Auburn Tigers by 17 (sound familiar?).
BEST WIN(S): Georgia (68) 72-71; Memphis (76) 85-79;
WORST LOSS(ES): George Mason (205) 68-62; Mississippi State (102) 83-77;
Q&A With RED CUP REBELLION
There comes a time in every mans life when he needs to ask for help. In today's case it's me, asking Micheal Borkey, one of the featured writers at Red Cup Rebellion, if he can help me by answering some questions about a team that he watches far more often than I do.
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RockMNation: Ole Miss isn't quite playing at the same level that they've been at the last few years, what's been the main reason for the slump this season from the Rebels?
Michael Borkey: I'm willing to bet Kennedy would have taken 10-2 going in to conference play without thinking twice. They also won a couple of early conference games over Alabama and Georgia and looked poised to be bubbly come tournament time. That all crashed and burned when Sebastian Saiz had to sit with an eye injury that eventually would require surgery. He was having his best season as a Rebel (averaging almost a double-double) and was the team's only experienced true post-man. Now the Ole Miss has to give significant minutes to guys that are either out of position, not ready for the role, or probably aren't SEC caliber players. They expect Saiz back soon but the damage has already been done. Moody is a special player, but he can't do it alone, and this team is reeling right now in Saiz's absence.
RMN: Overall, Andy Kennedy has shown a great ability to flex his roster and team in order to be competitive, what do you view his biggest strengths as? What is his biggest weakness?
Borkey: His biggest strength is finding volume scorers. Everyone remembers the circus that was Marshall Henderson, but Kennedy over the years has consistently been able to find a guy who can put their team on their back take over games. Guys like Stef Moody, Jarvis Summers, and Chris Warren have all been thrived in his program. I think the biggest reason for that, and what makes Ole Miss so attractive for these kind of guys, that is the freedom he gives his shooters. You hear the term "green light" thrown around and AK has no fear in giving a limitless one to his best shooters.
His biggest weakness, in my opinion, has largely been something that is completely out of his control. Ole Miss is NOT a basketball school and, outside of a couple good runs, they never have been. There is no history of winning. The state of Mississippi doesn't produce a great volume of high school basketball prospects. There is no NBA presence. There is little consistent fan support. And up until this year, he had the worst arena in the SEC and one of the worst in all of division-one basketball. That last point has changed with this year's opening of the new Pavilion at Ole Miss, and Athletics Director Ross Bjork has committed to the basketball program's long-term success. Rome wasn't built in a day, though, and Ole Miss fans are going to have to wait a little while to see what comes from that.
As a result of all of those elements, Kennedy has been forced to get creative with his recruiting. He's gone the JUCO route as well as signing a plethora of players from foreign countries. Some years it works out great, others not so much.
RMN: Stefan Moody hasn't been healthy, but what does a healthy Moody bring to the lineup, and how has his injury impacted the team?
Borkey: Stefan Moody is the most complete player I have seen at Ole Miss in a long time. You see highlights of him making shots from insane range and some people, unfortunately, think that's all he is worth and that can't be further from the truth. He is everything to this Ole Miss team and it became extremely clear when he went down against South Carolina (at the time of his injury they were up 11 with just a few minutes to play and they ended up losing the game). A healthy Moody brings a dynamic scorer that can beat you in many different ways, play tight defense, and can distribute the ball well when he draws extra attention. An injured Moody? Is detrimental to this team.
RMN: Who has been the biggest surprise so far this season for the Rebels? And who has been the biggest disappointment?
Borkey: Biggest surprise is guard Rasheed Brooks. If you look at him from a game to game productivity standpoint, you'd call me crazy. He's a very inconsistent scorer who will go for 15 one night on over 50 percent shooting and drop a big 0-fer the next. What I really like about Brooks' game, though, is his consistent defense and vocal leadership on a team that desperately needs it. If he can figure out how to be consistent on the scoring end, Ole Miss has themselves a good player in the future.
The biggest disappointment by far is Tomasz Gielo. They expected the Liberty grad-transfer to step in and be an impact guy at the forward position with his athleticism and ability to step back and make shots from the perimeter. He, especially in SEC play, has been nothing close to that. Ole Miss is a team that coming into the season really lacked depth in the post and they were counting on Gielo to fill that void. He has not delivered.
RMN: Last, how do you see this game playing out? And what is your final score prediction?
Borkey: Ole Miss is desperate for a win right now. Moody is getting healthier, Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey is coming on as a viable option at the point guard position and Marcanvis Hymon is looking better at forward. Despite that, Ole Miss still lacks depth in the post and don't really shoot all that well as a team despite being "shooter"-heavy. I don't think, however, think Missouri has enough to expose that weakness as much have other have been able to. If Moody is healthy, and they can get some contribution from the supporting cast, I see Ole Miss winning in a dangerously close game.
Big thanks to Michael for answering our Ole Miss questions. So, Mizzou plays a game tonight, and this is supposed to be a game they can win. I say supposed to be because they were supposed to have a shot against Mississippi State, and that didn't go so well.
I realize at this point that most Mizzou fans are have essentially lost of form of hope for the rest of the season. I understand. So I'm going to keep this brief.
Mizzou needs to win. No keys to the game because for the most part we know what the Tigers need to do. We know this team isn't very good, we know they are lacking in confidence and we know that 1-17 for the SEC season is a real distinction. They have the talent to win. Wes Clark is a good player. Namon Wright is a good player. Terrence Phillips, Kevin Puryear, K.J. Walton have all shown they can be the shimmer of light as we look into the future. Ryan Rosburg has shown improvement around the rim at times this year, and we've even seen Russell Woods be very effective around the basket and rebounding. All of these things have happened in bits and pieces at different points of the season but now they really need to start happening at the same time.
For the most part I think my "Things I want to see in 2016" piece can still hold true to an extent. I don't think a top 125 finish is on the table, but you have to see improvement to want to see this experiment continue. There is enough to make this a competitive team, it's time we see it.