In 2008-09, the Rebels did not have a season to remember--unless you're one who profits off of the industries which provide orthopedic surgeons with their equipment. Poised for a successful season, two Rebel starters along with the sixth man had their seasons abruptly ended by knee injuries. Several men short, the Rebels still fought to a 16-15 record which, given the circumstances, is very respectable. The incredibly shiny silver lining was, without any doubt, the emergence of Terrico White, who would be named the SEC Freshman of the Year and a member of the gold medal winning U-19 Team USA during the 2009 tournament.
This season, the Rebels return White along with the previously injured and, reloaded with a few recruits to improve depth, look to be one of the most talented Ole Miss squads in a very long time.
In this, the Cup's Comprehensive Rebel Men's Basketball Preview (CCRMBP), we'll be taking a look at the starting five, sixth man, newcomers, and schedule. As well, we will share our predictions for the third most important sport in the mind of the average Ole Miss fan: basketball.
Eniel is excited about the Rebel starters. And his freaky-long arms.
1: Chris Warren - Do any of you remember how good David Huertas was at the beginning of the season last year with a healthy Chris Warren? With a point guard who could really distribute the ball well, Huertas was incredible. Once Warren went out late in the Louisville game with a torn-ACL, Huertas became the inconsistent shooter and poor-decision maker as which we will all remember him.
Terrico White was able to step in a point and perform well in really all aspects of the position, but he still did not have the lightning-fast quick step or passing instincts of Chris Warren. With a point guard who can really get the flow of the game moving, things should open up a lot more.
During Warren's breakout freshman season, every team we faced threw the zone at us, hoping to slow down the ball. That is the kind of impact a guy with the quickness of Warren can do for you. With a more complete and healthy team this season, Murphy Holloway and Terrico White will be licking their chops if folks fall back into the zone and don't man-up on them. If the reports that he is just as quick as he was before his injury are true, Warren will be a damn thrill to watch as he should live up to his 2nd-team All-SEC billing.
2: Terrico White - Last season, when the players started telling the media that Terrico White may be the best player on campus before he had ever played in a college game, I totally bought that. Then, he only scored 62 points in his first 255 minutes on the court.
I was ready to write him off. He was taking tons of shots and just wasn't making them. Then came the Louisville game. A night after Andy Kennedy spent the evening in jail for engaging his War on Terror, just as the star Rebel at point was pulled off of the court with a bum leg, and under the spotlight of the ESPN-televised Big East/SEC challenge, White was thrust into action. Terrico didn't dazzle then and there, but he certainly took the best of his new opportunity during the remainder of the season. White was able to finish off the season averaging 14 points per game and hitting on 36% of his 3-point attempts. But more than that, he electrified the offense.
He breathed life into the program, just as it was beginning to look like all hope was lost. Sure, the Rebels only managed a 16-15 record, but White helped make that look a lot better. When Warren went down, I remember thinking that we might only win one SEC game. With White's help, we were somehow able to win seven.
In the offseason, Terrico White was named to the U-19 national squad where he went on to win a gold medal for his country by beating up on the French, Greeks, and Australians. So he's also a better American than you. Also, his totally badass dunk against two Kentucky defenders made Sportscenter's top plays that night which automatically qualifies him as "more interesting than most people you'll ever meet."
There is a good reason Terrico White was named as an All-SEC first-teamer. You'll see why soon enough.
3: Eniel Polynice - EP is the most experienced player on our team as a redshirt junior. Think about that for a while and convince yourself that Andy Kennedy has somehow not done a good job of recruiting young, athletic talent to Oxford. Two seasons ago, we saw Eniel bring the ball up the court numerous occasions, hit the key, and then take it himself for some paint-ballet and haphazard yet somehow effective layups. While fun to see, I hope that doesn't re-emerge this year. Let Chris and Terrico handle that. I know that Polynice rarely actually LOST the ball while he was handling it, but he just looked so awkward out there and the possible reward, to me, isn't worth the theatrics.
One thing that has always really stood out to us at the Cup about EP is his physical attributes. He's 6'5" but has the arms of someone a couple inches taller. He uses this to his advantage and two seasons ago proved to be one of our teams most savvy defenders. He has excellent presence underneath the basket, especially when driving to score, and shows little trepidation even when facing larger, more accomplished defenders.
Polynice was yet another victim of whichever demon attacked our roundballers' musculo-skeletal systems while they slept. After the first game of the season, Polynice took a medical redshirt as he had extensively damaged the cartilage in his left knee. He has made a full recovery and should get significant time in Andy Kennedy's offense which should utilize him as a hybrid SG/SF type of position.
4: Murphy Holloway - Murphy Holloway is my favorite player on our team. He's the only person in Rebel Athletics that people, as I see it, should actually be allowed to call "scrappy" or "someone who hustles on every play." By the way, Murphy Holloway isn't a slow, short, white, walk-on wide receiver. He's a 6'6"ish scholarship player who led the team last season in field goal percentage by a wide margin.
Holloway's stat sheet is always full. In the exhibition game against Suck State, Holloway played for 18 minutes, shooting 3/4, grabbing seven boards, and earning one assist, a block, and three steals. Yeah. He does everything. And even better, he's always trying to get to the ball. He's more aggressive than any other player on the court, and it shows. Holloway led the team in offensive rebounds last season and was among the SEC's leaders in that category. Oh. Did I mention he's 6'7" wearing heels?
Oh yeah. He also dunks all the time. That's helpful. In Friday's exhibition, he dunked twice in only 18 minutes. That can get a team going.
5: Reggie Buckner - Ok, so I know that this is probably a somewhat unreasonable call. But let me say this: Buckner won't start the first game. In fact, he won't start for a while, but he's going to get tons of playing time and could legitimately become a starter for SEC play, which is precisely why I'm putting him here. In the exhibition game, granted it wasn't a real game, Deaundre Cranston started the game and went 0-3 in ten minutes. Buckner doubled Cranston's minute total, almost had a sick dunk, blocked two shots, and looked to be soaking in the experience.
Reggie Buckner broke Jarvis Varnado's Memphis-area block record. Don't be silly enough to assume that suggests he's better than Varnado in that area. I don't think anyone is, but at least it means that Buckner can be a physical presence on defense down low. After all, that's all we really need from him. What we need Buckner to allow us to do is go to four guard sets without much drop-off on post defense. As long as he can keep opposing offenses from driving the lane at will, he will have done his job.
Buckner is the most heralded recruit in our program's history I believe. Unlike football, basketball recruiting very rarely produces enormous busts due to the AAU system. The best players get to play against the best players in the country and showcase their skills. Buckner will be excellent in time. We just need to hope that time is now.
Suck it, France.
Trevor Gaskins - The Peach State native has the ability to shoot from beyond the arc with success. His freshman season he shot nearly 40 percent from 3-point range, making 46 threes. If you don't know much about basketball, know this: that percentage from that range is totally badass. He set a Rebel freshman record in his very first game by dropping seven treys against Mississippi Valley State in the season opener. I was there. It was awesome. He was even named to the SEC All-Freshman team after that season due to his fantastic performance. He's an emotional player that could make an immediate impact coming off the bench. He'll be chomping at the bit to get back into basketball after a year reprieve due to yet another ACL tear. If the Rebels are down in a game or if Warren or White are gassed, Gaskins will be the option to go to, especially if he's back 100 percent from injury.
Forward: Reginald Buckner - Tennessee's Mr. Basketball for last season, the 6'8" Memphis native was an absolute force at Mannassas High School. Setting the state record for blocked shots in the process, Buckner averaged 19 points, 14 boards, 7 blocks, and 6 assists a game. He was one of the top forward prospects in the country and even cracked the top-100 prospects at any position in Rivals.com's rankings. Both Rivals and Scout have him as a four-star prospect. Buckner should get the nod at PF/C as a starter this season as the Rebels are without Malcolm White and lack serious depth in those positions.
Forward: DeAngelo Riley - A 6'9", 235 pound Juco prospect out of Southwest Tennessee, Riley was brought into the Rebel program to fill in some vacancies underneath. In Juco, he averaged 12 points, 8 boards, and 3 blocks a game. You will see some of Riley this season, as Coach Kennedy has said our forwards will play by committee, but I wouldn't expect to see him as often as Buckner.
Walk-on Shooting Guard: Republican O'Fundamentalsofshooting - Thanks for your donation to the Tip-Off club, Mr. O'Fundamentalsofshooting!
The regular season tips off on Nov. 13 against Arkansas-Little Rock followed by a Nov. 16 date with Alabama State in a couple of tune-up games before the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. This tournament could be a good place for the Rebels to gain some notoriety before conference play begins. Indiana, Georgia Tech, George Mason, Dayton and Villanova are also in the tournament field among a few others, so an O'Reilly Auto Parts Puerto Rico Tip-Off Championship (complete with a case of Castrol GTX 10W-30) would easily move the Rebels into the Top 25.
Andy Kennedy hopes to score an early Christmas present when the Rebels head to the backwoods of West Virginia(actually what other kind of woods are there in West VA?) to face his mentor and a likely raucous crowd of Mountaineers on national television. This could be one of the biggest non-conference games in Kennedy's tenure and could really send a message if he were to win this one. The only speed bump in this insultingly-simple schedule could come in a trip to Southaven to play UTEP. The Miners won 23 games last season and won't be intimidated by Ole Miss. Plus, they'll be trying to live up to the Glory Road standards Disney set just a few years back. Racial reconciliation for everyone.
Entering SEC play facing Mississippi State at home is not the worst way to begin conference action as it could set the tone for a competitive SEC West race. The bad news for the Rebels is that they travel to Knoxville and Kentucky this season in what were most likely notched as losses on most of our schedules before the season even began. Luckily, John Calipari may have NCAA sanctions placed on any game he coaches by then due to his scandalous, rapscallioned nature. The good news for conference play comes from home games against Florida, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and a road game against Georgia. For the Rebels, all of these are winnable.
From there, it's the SEC Tournament and then the NCAA Tournament.
Games to Watch: entire Puerto Rico Tip-Off (look for Dahveed Huertas selling french fries or ushering people to seats), @West Virginia, @Kentucky, @Tennessee, both Mississippi State games, both Arkansas games, and both Vandy and Florida at home.
He's back, SEC.
One Man To Beat: Andy Kennedy needs a big season this year to wipe away the memories of "an international altercation" in Cincinnati. His teams have been very close to the Big Dance, capturing the SEC West in his first season, advancing to the NIT Final Four in his second season and failing to make the postseason in his third year. He said this is the most athletic team he's had at Ole Miss. He's got the players to run his fast-paced, high scoring system. Kennedy has breathed life into a program which no one was excited about when Rod Barnes was fired. I see the Rebels finishing around 22-8 in the regular season with a 10-6 record in the SEC. They'll capture a couple SEC tournament wins and end up with a seven or eight seed in the NCAA tournament. At best, the Rebels will be a two and out team, but it would be a huge step for this program in year four under Kennedy.
The Ghost of Jay Cutler: So much of this season hinges on Chris Warren. If he stays healthy and performs as well or (presumably) better than his freshman year, he and Terrico White will be far too much for opponents to handle. The Rebels lack bulk underneath, but that is hardly Coach Kennedy's style as he prefer's the Chris Boshes to the Shaqs. Teams will out-rebound us and teams will gain leverage in the paint, but if Kennedy can force opponents out a bit and get them to play some zones, the Rebels will find opportunities to capitalize. The SEC West seems, for now, to be a two-team race between those of the Magnolia State. Mississippi State will be one of the best teams down low with shot blocking mutant Jarvis Varnado sticking around Starkville another year. If super-recruit Renardo Sidney is cleared by the NCAA, no SEC team will be stronger under the basket than the Western Division Bulldogs, save for perhaps Kentucky. If the Rebels can take one from the Rick Stansbury's team, they'll have a shot at the West. As far as the conference is concerned, the Rebels look to be the fourth most likely tournament team after Kentucky, State, and Tennessee. I'll predict the Rebels to finish with a 21-9 regular season record with a 9-7 SEC record plus a few SEC tourney wins. At that rate, expect them to be on the good side of the bubble come Selection Sunday.
Juco All-American: No Ghost. This season does not hinge on Chris Warren. This season hinges on Reggie Buckner. If he can even just replace what Malcolm White did last season, we're probably dancing. If not, we'll struggle. Our guards are tremendous, but in terms of big men, we have Buckner, Henry, and jucos. Oh, and Kevin Cantinol. Henry is too small. Kevin Cantinol will never play significant minutes. The jucos are alright, but nothing big-time. It's all about Buckner. Holloway helps a lot inside, but he's just too short to be totally counted on to produce down low. We know that we'll score a lot of points with Terrico, Warren, Holloway, Polynice, and Gaskins on the court, but will we be able to defend inside? I love our perimeter defense at this point, especially with the chance to put Polynice and an emerging Zach Graham on the court at the same time, but it won't help much if our big men play defense like Dwayne Curtis did. We have to be aggressive inside, and Buckner is our chance at that. If we're predicting the way our season will play out, I'll say 22-8 in the regular season with a 10-6 SEC record. Yeah. That's the same as One Man's, and I would guess that we're predicting all the same wins and losses as well. I think our schedule this season is relatively cut and dry. Sure wins and sure losses for the most part. Of course now that I say that, we'll beat Kentucky, lose to UCF, and go 16-15 again. We are... Ole Miss.