Juco All-American and I have been chatting basketball for the past month, so we figured it was about time to put something down for everyone to partake and share in.
Chris Warren is the face of this program for the next six months. It's his team and his season to shine or post yet another disappointing NIT bid.
The lightly recruited guard out of D.R. Phillips High School in Orlando has led the Rebels to two NIT final fours. He overcame the adversity of a blown-up knee in what should have been another 20-win season by all accounts.
Does it mean it's finally time for Ole Miss basketball to take the next step and make the NCAA tournament? Yes, it is time, but the task will be much more difficult this year than in the previous four of Andy Kennedy's tenure.
Kennedy's style of play depends on how long and athletic the entire team is and how versatile every player can play. It focuses heavily on the play of guards and an up-tempo pace to produce as many shots as possible. We'll breakdown the roster by looking at the three components of this year's team: guards, wings and bigs.
Losing Terrico White hurts. It hurts because we have no clue what his potential in college could have been. Could he consistently play at the level we saw against Texas Tech and Memphis in the NIT? If he could have...holy hell, what a season this would have been.
5'10'' SR Chris Warren: He's calm, cool and collected. That's great and all, but the Rebels need you to step up the intensity this year and lead this team to the NCAA tourney. It's going to take selfish play at times and distribution to role players at other times. How well Warren balances those responsibilities will determine where the Rebels end up in the postseason.
6'1'' (RS) SO Will Bogan: Yes, he's from Idaho, and he hasn't shown too many great flashes of play yet. However, he received a medical redshirt last year after a wrist injury and his freshman campaign had him log about 14 minutes per game. Bogan's ability to get on the court and hold a lead or keep the Rebels in a game will be vital for Warren to rest and not be forced to play 38 minutes per game.
6'3'' JR Trevor Gaskins: I'm a huge proponent of exclusively using Gaskins off the bench. He's a fiery player and streaky shooter. If you're down, he can come in and provide a spark with his play. The downside is that his attitude on the court has gotten the best of him on a couple occasions resulting in technical fouls. While I also had this problem when I played (including church league), he's got to remain focused as he will be one of the older players now that freshman will look to in crucial situations.
5'11'' FR Dundrecous Nelson: Obviously needs a nickname. D-Nel? Cous Cous? Dre? We'll come up with something and let you know. The Murrah stand-out should be able to give minutes right from the get-go. Nelson has the speed required to get up and down the court and a decent shooting touch to make him a threat when open. His passing ability will have to improve as he transitions to a higher level of opposition...oh wait, Jackson public high schools MAY be equivalent to most of our non-conference schedule.
The Rebels only lose Eniel Polynice at this position (unless we're counting Murphy Holloway who should have been a wing). Two new players join the Rebs both having played (loosely for Donald Williams) for tradition-rich schools in the past.
6'6'' SR Zach Graham: Zach "Showcase" Graham has been on of my favorite players since he arrived on campus. He hasn't been an epic player, but he is a talented on-ball defender, a good passer and a very efficient three point shooter. Graham averaged 9.2 points per game last year for Ole Miss and shot nearly 40 percent from three point range. He was third on the team in assists and committed the fewest fouls of any player who saw regular time. Graham doesn't excel at any aspect of the game but can fill up a stat sheet without anyone noticing. Expect him to play a large role this year especially with the losses of T. White, Holloway and Polynice.
6'4'' (RS) SO Nick Williams: Williams should be an upgrade over Polynice. As a true freshman at a terrible Indiana team, he played in 31 games and averaged nine points and 4.5 rebounds per game. He has a decent shooting touch knocking down 46 percent from the floor and 74 percent from the charity stripe. Williams struggled with turnovers, logging 2.2 per game and made only 21 percent of three pointers. Tom Crean's Indiana offense was not nearly as up-tempo as what Kennedy has put on the floor previously. Williams will most likely make a small impact right away and increasingly become a great offensive presence as the year progresses into next season.
6'5'' (RS) SO Donald Williams: Williams redshirted during his only year at Kentucky before transferring to Antelope Valley Junior College (Motto: GET YO LEARN ON!!). He shot 45 percent from beyond the arc in junior college and averaged 17 points per game. Despite those numbers looking good, I wouldn't expect much from Williams until at least next season. There aren't enough balls to go around (that's what she said?), and I haven't seen the coaches mention his name once.
6’10" JR Terrance Henry – I expect a lot out of Henry, and some people disagree. Certainly he hasn’t proven himself to be consistent at Ole Miss, but he took a major step up between years one and two, and I’m hoping that continues this season. Henry averaged just 6.4 points per game last season and 3.7 rebounds. He only played 17 minutes per game though, and wasn’t a focal point of the offense. Also, Murphy Holloway ripped rebounds away from Terrance. He did, nearly singlehandedly, beat Alabama for us last year, registering 20 points, 8 rebounds, and two blocks. A few more games like that from him this year would be nice. One glaring problem that Henry had last year was with fouling. Several times, he picked up a good number of early fouls and was taken out of the game having done nothing. That can’t continue.
6’9" SO Reggie Buckner – Reggie set the Ole Miss single-season block record last year with two blocks per game. Unfortunately, he also averaged three fouls per game and only 4 points. For a guy who averaged just seventeen minutes on the court, he did an alright job on the boards, bringing down 4.5 a game. Buckner’s biggest game last year came against LSU in Baton Rouge. He helped the Rebels to a win with eight points, nine rebounds, and two blocks. He played great against Auburn the next week in leading the Rebs to a win with eight points, six boards, and two blocks. Then, just when he was coming into his own, everything came crashing down. Buckner had ankle problems for the remainder of the season and never quite got back on track. I imagine we’ll see a significant improvement in his offensive game, and Andy Kennedy predicts he will "shatter" his freshman record.
6’8" FR Demarco Cox – Cox is an intriguing prospect. I’m sure many of you have read pieces about his recent interview in which he revealed that he’s down from 320 to 300, and I’ve read that Kennedy is elated to have him playing for the Rebs. That being said, 300 pounds is still pretty heavy, particularly in a system as up-tempo as ours. I have no doubt that Cox will contribute a good bit to the Rebels in time, but I don’t expect vast contributions this year. He needs to get his weight down to at least 280 before I want to see him get a lot of time. Kennedy has compared Cox to an "athletic" Dwayne Curtis. I hope that’s true, because that’s a recipe for excellence. Cox will play almost exclusively in the five spot.
6’9" JR Steadman Short – Short was relatively highly recruited coming out of Chipola Community College. Steadman garnered offers from Marquette and Maryland, both programs that have significantly more basketball history than we do. Here’s a highlight clip of his time in junior college.
I don’t know a lot about him, but he’s going to be playing the 4 spot for us and is technically Henry’s primary backup there (though I would guess that Reggie will shift to the four a good bit as well when we want Cox on the floor). He appears to be athletic and aggressive, and that should be enough for him to see decent minutes. This is really all speculation since I’ve never seen him play.
6’7" FR Isaiah Massey – Massey is a Floridian with no (known) offers other than that of Ole Miss. He will play the four, but I would guess that he sees Deangelo Riley type minutes this year. I’ve got no insight whatsoever here.
Ole Miss is going to take its lumps early on in the season. There will be no early run of 12 straight victories most likely with teams like Dayton, Murray State, Miami and Penn State on the schedule. None of those four teams will be intimidated by the Rebels in any way and any of the four are potential losses.
The difficulty of this season, however, will be that the SEC West member teams will all have low RPI and only Mississippi State and Alabama will be considered "quality" wins. What? Yeah, so even if we're winning, it doesn't necessarily help our case for the Big Dance.
Every SEC East foe outside of South Carolina has a great chance to go to the Big Dance. Home games against Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee are chances to improve the resume for March. Road games against Vanderbilt and Florida will be very tough games while a trip to South Carolina will be one of the easier draws for the year.
For the Rebels to make the NCAA tournament, I think it could very well take 23 or 24 regular season victories to solidify a spot. Piling up victories over Auburn, LSU and Arkansas ain't what it used to be, and even a 12-4 SEC Western division champion will draw a higher seed this season.
Final record prediction
Non-conference record: 11-4
SEC record: 10-6
2010-2011 record: 21-10