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Wednesday Answer: One of Refinement

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Yesterday, I asked people whether their opinions had changed about the Ole Miss Men's Basketball team. After a myriad of good responses, I thought I would weigh in with my own opinion.

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

In answering this question, I want to make one thing clear. I'm not a basketball expert. I enjoy watching the sport and grew up playing much more of it than I did football, but I don't understand the complexities of the game. Living in North Carolina has shown me that more than anything. I understand pick and rolls, general weave stuff, and that's pretty much my level of schematic understanding.

Because of this, my answer to this question isn't going to be based primarily around complexities in coaching I've noticed over the last few games. Instead, I'll be using statistics and general feeling when watching the games to explain why I think this team may not be dead yet.

In the basketball team's last three games against legitimate opponents (Dayton, Kentucky, and South Carolina), it's difficult to argue that the team hasn't played well. They were right in the thick of things against Dayton (RPI # 16)and Kentucky (RPI #1) and easily handled South Carolina (RPI #117). They generally played like a cohesive unit in each game, not putting up horrible shots we've seen so much of in the past. Sure, every now and then there's a return to that, but I think that's to be expected in today's college basketball landscape.

In assessing the answer to this question, I think it's important to look at two factors: The actual team and the remaining schedule.

The Rebels

What I have enjoyed seeing is guards who appear to know how to play with one another. Over the three aforementioned games, Jarvis Summers, Stefan Moody, and Snoop White have averaged 21, 15.6, and 12.3 points per game respectively. They're shooting at a good clip, and when they make it to the free throw line, their shots are falling.  In fact, Ole Miss currently ranks number one nationally in free throw percentage. Yes. Ole Miss. Yes. The same Ole Miss that everyone said couldn't hit a free throw to save their lives a year ago. Yeah.

Ole Miss doesn't have great bigs. It just doesn't. Having said that, the bigs aren't playing terribly.  Sebastian Saiz is beginning to be able to create his shot a little bit, averaging 8 points through those three games with six rebounds per game as well. MJ Rhett is staying active on the boards. Dwight Coleby is as well, and as long as we're talking about free throws, it's important to note Coleby's 82% clip from the line this season on nearly two attempts per game. Aaron Jones is playing a good bit as well, but his production has been much spottier than should be expected of a fifth year senior.

There are of course other players, Martavious Newby and Terrence Smith especially, but that highlights some of the more important pieces who are bringing this team together. If they continue playing the way they have recently, the team has a chance to win a lot of its remaining games.

The Remaining Schedule

The average RPI of the teams remaining on Ole Miss' schedule is currently 84.3 according to RealTimeRPI.com. That gives Ole Miss a chance for a top 100 win almost every time it steps on the court. There are seven games remaining against current top 50 teams. But the bigger point is, other than Mississippi State there really aren't significant land mines. Sure, the team doesn't need to lose to Missouri, but their RPI is at 164, so it wouldn't be a death knell situation if they did. They just can't lose to State. They can't.

All this is to say, this year is different for several reasons. The players are more disciplined, and there may be more talent than usual on the team. But more importantly, Andy Kennedy has never had the luxury of playing in a Southeastern Conference that wasn't full of duds. Usually, when the team starts SEC play, there are only one or two chances to pick up quality wins and ten chances to pick up awful losses. That's just not the case this year. Can Kennedy handle those better teams? I don't know.

But he has the opportunity now. Some fans seem to believe he's coaching for his job. If that's the case, there's no better opportunity than the one he has ahead of him.