[Juco All-American, buster_bluth, and I spent an afternoon emailing each other our thoughts on the upcoming Rebel basketball season. Here's what that discussion yielded. And please, as always, let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.]
Ghost: The 2013 SEC Mens Basketball Tournament Champion Ole Miss Rebels (I'll never get tired of typing that this season) lost a lot of talent from last season. Returning is college basketball's most notorious heel, Marshall Henderson, but lost are Murphy Holloway, Reggie Buckner, and Nick Williams. Of those three, whose departure do you feel will have the most impact, and why?
Buster: Interesting question. With experience in the form of Henderson and Snoop White returning, I think you can safely say that it won't be Nick Williams. In Buckner, you had the school's all time leading shot blocker and one of the most feared interior defenders in the conference each of the last 4 seasons. While I don't think any single post player will be able to step in and immediately provide 9+ points, 7+ rebounds, and 2.5 blocks/game, I do expect that the loss of Buckner will be easier, per se, to offset than that of Holloway. Not that Holloway was a perfect player - no right hand, abysmal FT shooter - but he played with an infectious energy that not a lot of guys have. And his stats - 14.5 points, 9.5 rebounds/game - were among the conference's best as well. He led the conference in rebounding and FG%, ranked 8th in scoring, and 10th in steals. I'm not sure we'll be able to duplicate that this season.
Juco: It has to be Murphy Holloway. He wasn't the right size for his position, and he couldn't shoot free throws. When he was on his game though, he was tough to stop. He gobbled up rebounds and played stretches of strong, heady defense. Nick Williams was a capable player but nothing that will be tough to replace. Reggie Buckner was a strong shot blocker but not all that powerful as an actual defender. I imagine the Rebels will be fine at defending the paint, and if they aren't, it's likely not just because Buckner is gone. Holloway is the player gone from this team that it hasn't really found an answer for. I think you can look at players like Aaron Jones and Sebastian Saiz to make up for Buckner. Who's the hustle guy who drives hard to the basket and puts up layup after layup for a stretch though? The answer can't just be Marshall Henderson. Snoop White is the most likely answer, but so far he has only been a ball of potential who doesn't take over games like he could.
Going into last season, Anthony Perez was going to be"a lot like Dirk Nowitzki." What happened? Should Rebel fans be excited this time around?
Ghost: What happened was a ridiculous comparison was made. Perez will contribute a good deal to this team out of necessity, but I can't see him becoming a major scoring threat. Perez averaged only 1.7 points, 1.6 rebounds, and 0.3 assists in just 6.8 minutes per game over the course of 30 contests. In a very un-Nowitzki fashion, he shot 33.3 percent from the field and made a paltry 6-of-26 3-point shots. Still, he had his moments where he showed significant promise. He played very well in limited action in the SEC Championship game against Florida, and rebounded as well as anyone on the team to keep the Rebs in the contest. He nailed a huge three against Vanderbilt to spur the Rebel comeback in Nashville. And he generally performed well enough off of the bench in non-SEC play. That said, he just isn't physically powerful enough to give me any cause to be excited for his development. He's athletic, and at times shoots with a nice stroke, but I'm not sure he is ready to execute at a high level in this league.
Can we just bring on Sebastian Saiz already? Or, in saying that, am I doing the exact same damn thing that people did with Perez last year? Oh well, whatever.
Other thoughts on Perez?
Buster: While I'm not ready to pull the plug on Perez just yet, causes for unbridled optimism are waning. The preseason comparisons/expectations last season were silly, but inevitable due to a body type and alleged skill set of the recently departed Terrance Henry. Based on his numbers from the exhibition game the other night - 9 shots in 15 minutes - AK and staff asked him to be more aggressive. Unfortunately, only 2 of those shots went in and he also committed 4 turnovers and 3 fouls. I expect he will be improved over last season, but he had trouble even seeing the floor last season, playing just 85 minutes in 18 SEC games. With a healthy Demarco Cox and Aaron Jones and high expectations for the 2 freshman bigs, he will really have to earn his minutes this season as well.
I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that Marshall Henderson will be our leading scorer this season. Who do see as our second leading scorer?
Juco: That's a tough question. As I mentioned, I think the easiest choice based on potential is Snoop White. He's tall and has a pretty shot at times. I'm going to shake things up though and go with Derrick Millinghaus. I know he might not even be the starter at point guard, but I see him shooting the ball a lot when he's in the game. I also don't know that we're going to see a lot of players with double digit point averages on the year, and I'm sort of rolling the dice on who may be the highest single-digit guy. I see Millinghaus shooting a lot more floaters than last year and continuing to attempt a decent number of three point shots.
Ghost: I'd like for it to be a big man, but I can't see it happening just yet. I'll take the easy route and go with Snoop. He'll see more than enough minutes to score enough points.
Back to Henderson: do you think we'll at all see a subdued Marshall this year? Love him or hate him, you can't deny that he's got energy, and that he brought Ole Miss basketball arguably more press than it's ever gotten, for better or for worse. Will his offseason suspension result in anything significant? Is there any way we could even know such a thing?
Buster: If there were such a way to know it, he wouldn't be Marshall Henderson. Based on his interview with Andy Katz, he claims his off-the-court problems exist exclusively when basketball is not part of his daily routine. There were no major off the court issues him (at least publicly) with him during last season, so there may be some truth to that claim. On the court, I don't expect we'll see much of a change in his demeanor. He'll still be fiery, overly animated, and the target of vitriol from opposing fan bases. He'll also chuck up an array of ill-advised shots, hit a few of them, and have Kennedy wringing his hands on others. As the lone senior on the team, I do expect he'll take on more of a leadership role in practice and in the locker room as well. We need him to be that guy.
Juco: In short, no. If Marshall Henderson is a changed man, I'll be shocked. Some of the questions Andy Katz asked were just plain silly, and Henderson couldn't even keep it together for a few. At this point, we know what we have in Marshall Henderson. At times, he's going to get really hot from three. At times, he will be very cold. He will shoot them no matter what. He's an adequate off-ball defender but struggles a bit on-ball. He has a wild personality, and it will show. He doesn't actually do anything wrong on the court (unless you consider taunting opposing fans wrong), but he just doesn't carry himself like the leader he needs to be for this team. Suffice it to say, I'm glad we have his scoring on our team. The rest I could do without.
Ultimately, how do you think this team will do?
Buster: I don't anticipate there being a significant dropoff in wins from last year, at least during the regular season. While we will be young down low, we should have one of the most reliable backcourts in the conference. In addition to Henderson, we return a 2-year starter at PG in Jarvis Summers, a very capable backup in Derek Millinghaus, a long (but thus far inconsistent) scorer in Snoop White. As discussed earlier, replacing Buckner and Holloway will be not be easy, but both Aaron Jones and Demarco Cox are healthy this year and played well in the exhibition last week. I expect they will anchor the post positions as both Sebastian Saiz and Dwight Coleby adjust to Division 1 play. If Anthony Perez and Martavious Newby are both improved from their freshman years, Kennedy will have the ability to go 8-9 guys deep to get favorable matchups on the floor. I suspect, as per usual with an AK-coached team, we will be on the bubble come mid-February.
Ghost: Since so much of the SEC is a mystery right now, it is hard for me to argue one way or another with much confidence. I do think the Rebels will be able to score pretty reliably with a Marshall Henderson driven offense, but how this team plays on defense remains a huge question mark for me. I just can't figure out who will provide the defensive presence of Reggie Buckner or the rebounding prowess of Murphy Holloway. And while that may be a very unfair standard by which to judge these players, it's important to note that those two contributed so much to last year's successes.
I think Ole Miss should fall in the middle of the pack in the SEC, and therefore be on the wrong side of the bubble at the end of the season. Even then, I worry that prediction itself might be a bit generous.
Okay, final question: if Andy Kennedy does not make the dance, is he back on the hot seat?
Buster: I don't think so, barring any kind of total collapse on the court or another international incident off it. Over his tenure, his teams have been maddening to watch at times, and have turned in some horrid performances in must-win games. Hence just the one NCAA Tournament appearance. But, he has won consistently at school that historically, no other coach has been able to. He's the winningest coach in school history, he has continued to recruit well, and he has a staff in place now that he seems to trust more than his previous one. We're also just 8 months removed from winning only the 2nd SEC Tournament in school history and being one possession from the 2nd Sweet 16 appearance in school history. With the extension he signed after last season, his job is safe for the time being.
Juco: As crazy as this is, he is already on the hot seat with many Ole Miss fans. Apparently winning conference tournaments and NCAA tournament games does nothing to help your job security when you play "disorganized street ball." Never mind that Ole Miss runs an offense that a huge percentage of teams around the country run. If you try to isolate mismatches, apparently you play "street ball" these days. I don't imagine Ross Bjork putting Kennedy on the hot seat any time soon. You can't do that to successful winners at a school with the basketball interest of Ole Miss.
Ghost: I'm with you all. I like Andy Kennedy. He does a lot with little. He's also frustrated the hell out of me at times but, after the way last season ended, it's very easy for me to forgive his shortcomings.