For starters, yes, we're making a little extra dough off of the next four basketball posts, because they're sponsored by Bud Light. Don't hate us for it. That'd make you a hypocrite or a Luddite or a socialist or something scary. Just roll with it.
The past five years of Ole Miss basketball have been remarkably consistent. If you were to take every Roundball Rebel season during head coach Andy Kennedy's tenure and sort of boil them down into their elemental details, you'd have something like this: a team capable of bettering much of its out-of-conference foes, especially when playing in the Tad Pad, going about .500 in SEC play, and performing respectably in the NIT on the backs of either overachieving backups (likely in because of an injured starter) or underachieving "stars". This is all, in a perfectly Ole Missian fashion, on the heels of a perennial "last-four-out" type of team, the Roundball Rebels have been both exciting and agonizing to watch in a fashion which has, as of late, only been rivaled by the Ole Miss baseball team.
This season has been more of the same. With an above-decent set of performances against an alright-ish nonconference slate of opponents, the Rebels looked ready to compete in the SEC this season and were, by some, the clear-cut favorites for the SEC Western Division title. What we've seen instead, has been yet another let down, but even this one surpasses typically Kennedian proportions.
The Rebels entered SEC play with the most difficult out-of-conference schedule in the West and the best RPI. Certainly, we were destined for
greatat least good things, right? Apparently not. The Rebs started SEC play with four straight losses. It was alright though, we were assured. The front part of our schedule contained SEC East teams and that pesky rival of ours. In time, we would right the ship and probably win the SEC West. Right? It seemed like a longshot, with the Rebs being in a tough place at 1-5 in conference play. But they then beat Kentucky. Then Arkansas. Then LSU. Things were looking up, and maybe things really had turned around. A loss to Alabama hurt, especially since Alabama's record is far and away the best in the West, but it shouldn't have been insurmountable. A second loss to State coupled with a loss to South Carolina, though, that's insurmountable. That has us sitting at 5-8 in SEC play without much hope to finish with more than 6 or 7 SEC wins.
But it's not just the record; that doesn't tell the whole story. Rather, it's the way that record was achieved. This season, just as with every other year under Kennedy, we've seen mental lapses, lack of adjustment defensively, and an inability to develop players who aren't forced to play a ton of minutes early in their careers. This has led to wild inconsistency on the hardwood for a program which we feel can achieve much more than it has with the available talent and resources (resources which are, by every standard, paltry).
AK undoubtedly has pumped excitement and attention into the Ole Miss basketball program. We've got to give him that. His followers, whether it's AK's Army or K-Villagers, are a much more throaty and numerous group than Rod's Squad in its final years, and that's mainly because Rod Barnes left the Ole Miss program in a state of stagnation. The Rebels were, after a trip to the Sweet Sixteen early in Barnes' career, churning out 14 to 17 wins a season, mustering hardly anything more than a few early exits from the NIT. Kennedy has raised the level of success and along with that expectations. Unfortunately, he's no longer able to meet the same expectations he raised by recruiting better players and having more postseason consistency.
And then there's that pesky detraction regarding his behavior. AK can drink like a fish – huge plus in our opinion – and spends much of his time at The Library, presumably to make sure that the drinks are still watery and that Terrence Henry doesn't crank out a bunch of babies (you know he can). The international altercation did turn out to be at least a conference-wide debacle, but that fizzled out rather nicely, considering the potential for disaster. Still, he will always have his detractors regarding his behaviour and attitude simply because, to many (who like to wear sweater-vests) he's not "Ole Missian" enough. We're he more apt to win basketball games, we'd let all of that fall to the wayside. But we're Machiavellian in our approaches, and don't mind rhetorically hoising a guy on his own petard if it helps our cause.
Were we to wager, though, whether or not Andy Kennedy were to be relieved of his duties next season, we'd do so in the negative. While we could argue easily and at length for reasons as to why he shouldn't be returning to Oxford for a (wow) sixth season at the helm of the Rebel basketball program, it does not seem as if that will be the case. For starters, the interest and expectations of this program, arguably (but only barely) the worst program in a traditionally average basketball conference, have been steadily on the rise ever since Andy Kennedy's arrival, and with good reason. The Rebels have beaten good teams, such as last season's Kansas State team, and fought well against powerful programs, such as Villanova and Kentucky. Fans see the talent on the floor and the potential for success in Oxford and, naturally, want more. But is all of that too much too soon? Should Ole Miss fans, only a few years removed from Rod Barnes' tenure marked with steadily diminishing returns, truly expect such great things out of Kennedy (of course, that then raises the question as to the definition of "great," but we'll save that for a semantics course).That would certainly be a central argument of Kennedy's supporters.
Another reason many are likely to cite in favor of AK is the steadily better recruiting we've seen in Oxford since his arrival. Terrence Henry, Reginald Buckner, Malcolm White (for whatever that's worth), Terrico White, and others weren't exactly small fish during their high school years. Of course, he swung and missed, big time, this past offseason by missing out on both Ky Madden (to Arkansas) and Johnny O'Bryant (to LSU) after supposedly holding a recruiting lead on both of them. And then there's the story of Jalen Kendrick, the hilarious Twitterer - there's more to come from this if Ghost can find time for it - and former McDonald's all-American winding up in Oxford via Memphis way and the promise he offers to our future teams.
Heightened expectations, improved recruiting, and the attitude he has brought to the program and team would all be enough to earn him an extension, if not a significant raise, were he to simply somehow turn those elements into wins against conference foes, especially shitty ones like Arkansas and South Carolina.
So, while it has been discussed seemingly ad nauseum by a select few on this here site, we once again raise the question: what is the fate of Andy Kennedy?
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