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Ole Miss Basketball: What Could Have Been And A Brief Look at the State of the Program

Nearly a week removed from Ole Miss' first round loss in the NIT and things are less emotional. Collectively we've accepted our fate as a meddling, average SEC program, and personally I've had time to clear my head and think about the team as a whole and its head coach. This year obviously didn't go as we had hoped, with an SEC West title nearly a foregone conclusion at the season's onset and a constant feeling that this year, like the three prior, would be the yeras needed to get over a metaphorical hump which separates those in the dance and those in the NIT. We're' frustrated, and I'm sure that Andy Kennedy is as, if not more frustrated with the outcome than any of us.

A few weeks ago, I helped pen an article about how Andy Kennedy deserved to be fired barring an improbible turnaround which would have led to an NCAA tournament berth. At the time, I simply looked at the fact that, in a down era for the SEC West with a decently talented roster, Kennedy couldn't get us to the big dance. That's still a major concern, but I'd like to take step back in scope some to understand some of what's wrong with our program in general because, to be fair, Andy Kennedy is not the reason that we can count our tournament appearances on one hand (assuming you were born with six fingers on one hand). There's more to the Ole Miss Rebel basketball conundrum.

Click the jump, y'all.

First, let's take a look at this past season. Kennedy fielded a line-up that wasn't very deep, and even some starters struggled. We were talented but, as we saw, not nearly as talented as we should have been.

Plenty of people harp on the players who have transferred out of our program - namely Eniel Polynice, Malcolm White, and Murphy Holloway - and Terrico White's decision to go pro as severe detriments to this past season's potential, and I agree with that. In fact, I don't think this can be overstated. Let's take a look at the probable two-deep had everyone Kennedy recruited remained on the team through this season.

First String Second String
PG: Chris Warren Dundrecous Nelson
SG: Terrico White Nick Williams
SF: Zach Graham Eniel Polynice
PF: Murphy Holloway Terrance Henry
C: Reggie Buckner Malcolm White

That's a solid starting five with a second line that would be very effective. That team right there easily wins the SEC West and competes for the overall SEC title. Think Alabama this season. This team likely wouldn't have suffered losses to the Rebels' most significant out of conference foes in Colorado State, Miami, and Dayton. 

Regarding individual players and what they've done since leaving Ole Miss, Eniel Polynice averaged four points and three assists off of the bench for Seton Hall, Malcolm White averaged just over five rebounds and just under eight points a game for LSU, while Murphy Holloway sat out at South Carolina per NCAA transfer rules (his ten points and eight rebounds per game at Ole Miss though would have been crucial during this past season). And, of course, Terrico White's 15 points per game as a sophomore would have translated into rougly the same with a bit of wiggle room for his Junior season, had he decided against going pro after this past season.

Instead, because of these losses, our two deep looked something like this.

First String Second String
PG: Chris Warren Dundrecous Nelson
SG: Nick Williams Trevor Gaskins
SF: Zach Graham um.... Donald Williams?
PF: Terrance Henry Steadman Short
C: Reggie Buckner Demarco Cox

You can obviously see the difference that Terrico White going pro with Murphy Holloway and Malcolm White transferring to other SEC schools had upon our team. So here's my point in all this. Kennedy gets some talent to Ole Miss. I think that arguing against that would be silly. His weakness, obviously, is in teaching fundamentals and drawing up successful plays. We have to realize that will continue to be his weakness. He's not going to all of a sudden become an elite head coach. His strength is in bringing in talent who can win without being coached up too much.

That's where the Ole Miss problems arise. We're not a school to which elite basketball athletes can be easily recruited. Basketball, the "city sport," doesn't really fit Oxford, MS. Oxford isn't glamorous, doesn't have a large black population, and is a sleepy, small, Southern college town. That's not how and where ultra-talented kids from inner-city Memphis, New Orleans, and Atlanta are hoping to spend their college years. That's nothing we can really change.

We also have no basketball history. I mentioned before that we've only been to the tournament six times in our program's existence. In those six tournament trips, we're 2-6. That's not very good. Because of this, our tradition doesn't sell itself.

This brings us to the last major sticking point for recruits: facilities. While we have a great newly-constructed indoor practice facility for basketball, our arena is horrible. This is something we can control, and the administration is apparently doing something about it as I type this. They're visiting the FedEx forum to figure out the best way that a new facility can be worked into the budget and include all the necessary amenities.

We really hate to so briefly and dismissively defend the coaching of Andy Kennedy. Certainly, from a practices, play calling, and development standpoint, he leaves much to be desired. But our program itself isn't doing any favors to anyone.