After losing an All-SEC point, the team's best defender, and an oftentimes white-hot 3-point shooter to injury, most would have tossed this season aside. We all heard it:
"Ah, well, let's let the freshmen get some reps or something. When's baseball season, again?"
However, there were a few good men who didn't give up on this year. Malcolm White, Terrence Henry, Murphy Holloway, Terrico White and, most importantly, Andy Kennedy knew this team could win some games.
Take, for example, last night's pounding of Tennessee. There is no way you can sugarcoat this for a Volunteers squad who never came close to having a lead during the second half. They simply got their asses handed to them in the Tad Pad. Bruce Pearl with his waxy skin and beady eyes was stunned by Terrico White's 21 points and Murphy Holloway's double-double. Tennessee looked frustrated and lost against a team which has had enough off-court issues to cover for the entire conference. Ole Miss looked very, very good.
And, really, our Rebel roundballers are very, very good outside of their inexperience. The athletes that Coach Kennedy has been able to bring to Oxford have shown that they are worthy of their recruiting hype. It's not coaching and it's certainly not physical talent that is keeping out of the SEC basketball picture. It's our team's inexperience. Many of these freshmen simply weren't ready to have such responsibility thrust upon them so early.
Of course this inexperience has led to inconsistency. Having a losing record in conference while earning home wins against Kentucky and Tennessee and a very rare road win against Mississippi State epitomizes this inconsistency about as well as anything else this season has seen. However, those moments when the team is just clicking in all aspects of the game--shooting, rebounding, defense--really give we fans an indicator as to just how much potential these athletes have.
A few of these guys wouldn't have been able to see nearly as many minutes on the court if it weren't for these injuries. Furthermore, I don't think we're going to need to worry about Andy Kennedy's expected departure for a "bigger" program for a while now, what with that whole "punching minorities" thing hanging over his head. Yes, proverbial stars are aligning and that is giving this Rebel basketball fan an odd, odd feeling of cautious optimism.
We could realistically end the season with an 8-8 in conference record and have an impressive showing in the conference tournament. All things considered, that would be an incredible finish to this disaster of a season.
Yes, this is definitely way too early to be saying such things, but if Chris Warren and Eniel Polynice can return from injury without having lost any of their quickness, this team will be very, very good next season. I'm talking "in-the-running-for-the-SEC-title" good. We will have legitimate Kennedy-ball experience at every spot on the floor and halfway down our bench.
Perhaps the knee injuries and Andy's War on Terror will turn out to be blessings in disguise. Next season's prospects are exciting, Rebels. Get cha popcorn ready (you know, like 8 or 9 months from now).
Disclaimer: Early in the morning. Not enough coffee. Thoughts scrambled.