The Rebels cruised against the Lions of North Alabama last night in a scrimmage game attended by Oxonians and Ole Miss students alike looking for something over which to get excited. I, being gainfully employed and living a day's drive from Oxford, wasn't able to make it, so I'm going to rely on some observations from friends of the Cup for this. Please feel free to add to this or correct any mistakes made in the comments thread below.
For starters, we weren't able to see what former McDonald's All-American Jalen Kendrick was made of last night due his recent hernia surgery. Worry not, though, as we fully expect him to be ready to play by the time he is eligible come December. In addition, freshman Ladarius "Snoop" White (We've got Snoop Brassell on the football team, Snoop White on the basketball team, so now all we need is a "Snoop" McGillicutty or something on the baseball team. I would also take a "Snoop" Tompkins on the women's soccer team. On top of that, Snoop Dogg did perform at the Lyric Theater in Oxford this past weekend, so we've certainly gone above our Snoop quota.) wasn't on the court as he is yet to be cleared by the NCAA.
Couscous Nelson (it will stick, dammit) led the way with 22 points, nine assists, seven steals, and six rebounds. He did all of this in a mere 20 minutes of play. He has a good basketball IQ and instinct, from what we can tell, but is prone to Trevor Gaskin-ing or Chris Warren-ing in that he just loves to fling up the three ball. He was 2-7 from beyond the arc last night which should be a worrisome statistic against any team worth half of a damn. He will probably lead this team in points this season, and will likely be counted on late in a handful of games to make clutch shots and crucial free throws. He certainly isn't Chris Warren in those areas, but we do feel he is a more complete basketballer all around.
Terrance Henry, who is a guy we would like to se the offense work through, had 14 points, four rebounds, a pair of assists and a block in 24 minutes on the floor. He worked primarily as a wing, giving him a huge size advantage in that spot. He is also looking to be one of our team's better free throw shooters and drained the only three attempt he made. If he can prove to be a consistent scorer from different spots on the floor, he will really be able to stretch opposing defenses.
Demarco Cox has undergone an incredible transformation. There aren't many great pictures of the new slim and trim Demarco (there's a picture of him in this photo gallery from last night), so you'll just have to trust us when we say the guy looks and moves so well after losing 40 pounds this offseason. The Yazoo City native went from looking like a potential replacement for Bobbie Massie on the Rebel offensive line to a legit center in Andy Kennedy's up-tempo basketball scheme. He had 11 points, six rebounds, and a block in 24 minutes.
Murphy "Big Murph" Holloway, easily the Cup's favorite Rebel roundballer, did exactly what we expect him to do by ripping down 11 rebounds while scoring seven points in 20 minutes. He will need to work on his free throws (he was 3-6 on the night), and needs to continue to reacclimate himself to the game, but I'll be damned if we're not thrilled to have him back in Oxford.
Reggie Buckner led the team in blocks with five. Did anyone expect anything else? With Henry, Murph, and Buckner taking the three, four, and five spots respectively, we will have a pretty complete front court that can score, rebound, and defend as well as most in the country. The great thing about having a Demarco Cox coming off of the bench (he actually got the start tonight so who knows exactly what his role will be) is that he will be able to provide Buckner or Murph a decent spell if and when either of them gets into foul trouble.
Nick Williams showed his versatility, scoring ten points and reeling in ten rebounds, but missed all of his shots from three point range. One thing about this team is that, if we're going to have such a strong front court, we will need good shooters to stretch opposing defenses and open up lanes. Williams and Nelson will have to provide this to us alongside Kendrick and Jarvis Summers.
Speaking of Summers, he got 25 minutes of play out there, earning nine points, three assists (but four turnovers - if this guy's going to be the distributor we hope he is, that will have to cease), and a steal. He is a pass-first guy which is a relief for those who couldn't stand the Chris Warren style of play we've seen for four seasons. Another freshman guard, Maruice Aniefiok, saw 21 minutes on the floor but didn't make much of them, earning four fouls to go along with five points.
There is a lot of cause for optimism out of this team, especially when considering that the potential star of the show wasn't even on the floor last night, but I think we should still expect some early struggles with team chemistry and freshmen inconsistency. Also, we could end up living and dying by Dundrecous Nelson the way this program did with Chris Warren for four years. It will be fun to watch this team defensively, as I feel that the defensive prowess of this team is better than any Coach Kennedy has had, and our play down low should be more than enough to keep us competitive, but ultimately we will be made or broken on our guard play.
This team will have to develop consistent and depth at the guard positions if it is to seriously contend for an NCAA tournament berth. Jalen Kendrick is, without a doubt, the missing piece to this puzzle, but how much of an impact he will truly make remains yet to be seen. If he can, alongside Couscous and Summers, be a consistent scorer, distributor, and defender - all three of which are skills he is said to have in spades - then this will be a very competitive basketball team. With the SEC being as good as it has been in a pretty long while, this season should be a very, very exciting one to watch.