[This is part two of a three-part series where Juco, One Man to Beat, and yours truly will collaborate to preview the upcoming basketball season. We're excited for a little roundball, considering how poorly football has gone, and we hope this gets you a little excited as well. Part one looked at the roster, part two - this part - will look at the schedule, and part three will be a roundtable of sorts where we examine our expectations for this year - if you'd like to participate in that segment, tweet at or email us.]
The schedule for 2011 has a few interesting out of conference matchups sprinkled about a bunch of ho-hum cupcake type opponents. We've decided to break the season down into phases, highlighting the matchups we find the most interesting. Phase one is...
A very easy start:
November 11 - ULM (SQUAWK 'EM HAWK 'EM): The warhawks are an atrocious basketball team. They went 7-24 last season as a member of the Sun Belt. Ole Miss should score a hunnert on 'em.
November 14 - Grambling State: As a team which finished 12-21 last season, Grambling should be yet another warm-up game for the Rebels before heading to the US Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam tournament.
The Paradise Jam:
November 18 - Drake: Stranger things have happened to Ole Miss at these little exotic tournaments, but Drake is a team the Rebels should be able to defeat. They were 13-18 last season and aren't in any real position to win this little Jam.
November 19/20 - Either Marquette or Winthrop on both dates. Marquette's a solid program in arguably the best basketball conference, and they had a nice season in 2010-11. They finished the regular season 20-11, earned a tournament berth, and made it all the way to the Sweet Sixteen where they lost to North Carolina. Winthrop had a losing record. Ho hum.
November 21 - TBD. Potential other noteworthy opponents in this tournament are TCU, Drexel, and UVA but, at first glance, Marquette should be the favorite to win this thing.
Toughest OOC stretch:
November 25 - Miami: There 'Canes were on the bubble all season last year in the always tough ACC. If you'll recall, they beat our Rebels 86-73 last season in Coral Gables.
December 1 - at DePaul: Yay! We drew the worst team in the Big East for the SEC/Big East Challenge! Really, DePaul is atrocious. They only won seven games last year. Seven. This game will be in Chicago which is a plus for the Midwestern Rebel diaspora as well as the basketball team who, at the very least, drew the best destination of all the SEC teams in the challenge (I'd try to argue that playing in the Verizon Center in downtown DC against Georgetown would be the ideal destination, but I'm biased).
December 4 - at Penn State - Penn State's a team that somehow made it into the NCAA tournament despite winning fewer than 20 games in the regular season. They lost to Temple in the second round, if you'll recall. This won't exactly be a "tough" road trip insomuch that there will be tougher trips during conference play, but the Rebs will have a challenge against the Nittany Lions.
December 10 - Mississippi Valley State: The Rebs beat the Delta Devils 101-73 last season.
December 14 - UL Lafayette: "UL Lafayette has a basketball team?" Yes they do.
December 17 - at Southern Miss: Larry Eustachy's team won 22 games last year. Don't sleep on them. They put up a really good fight against Ole Miss in a game that went the way of the Rebels, 86-81. They did lose their top two scorers off of that team, but the game's in Hattiesburg so the stench of pine tar and burning tires will serve as a sufficient distraction in the way of a home court advantage.
December 21 - at MTSU: The Mustangs aren't all that good, but they're not as cakey as some of our other OOC opponents. This game will be in Southaven which, considering the difficulty of getting anybody to Oxford to watch a basketball game in December, is a great thing.
December 30 - at Dayton: The Flyers were a good squad last season and beat our Rebels 78-71 in a heartbreaking overtime. This was the game in which Reggie Buckner injured his ankle and really put the rest of our season in jeopardy. When Buckner was healthy, the Rebs were up 46-30 and appeared to be cruising. Yes, he can make a big difference when he is on the floor.
The "Jelan Kendrick is finally eligible game":
January 3 - SMU: The Mustangs lost their top scorer, Scootie McDooderson, and are an underwhelming CUSA team. The Rebels will somehow manage to barely win this.
And, finally, SEC play:
As you know, the SEC scrapped the division format for standings within the conference in order to avoid the champion of a really bad division from getting a bye over a really good team from another division. It makes sense to do it this way, so I applaud the move, and don't have any issues with the change because it, most importantly, didn't at all affect the scheduling. You still do home and away vs. each opponent in your old division, and alternate between seasons playing home or away with each opponent in your old opposing division.
In what was the West, every single squad looks to improve on last year's efforts. Alabama's ranked 17 in the preseason, Mississippi State returns a ton of talent and is a legit dark horse contendor to win the SEC (but won't), Arkansas' got some good freshman talent and a new head coach who has a winning history, and Auburn and LSU recruited pretty well. The Rebs could have a harder time getting more than five total wins against the West.
Regarding the teams in what was the East, Ole Miss is lucky to host two of the league's best teams in the hostile Tad Pad. Florida comes to town on January 26 while Vanderbilt makes the drive down from Nashville on February 16. South Carolina also comes to Oxford. That means Ole Miss will play against Georgia in Athens, Tennessee in Knoxville, and Kentucky in Lexington. All things considered, don't be surprised if Ole Miss goes 8-8 in SEC play yet again.