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These new players could make Ole Miss basketball a surprise contender in the SEC

Andy Kennedy has a way of surpassing expectations, and additions like Miami transfer Deandre Burnett could help him do it again this season.

NCAA Basketball: South Alabama at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Sit back and breathe in that sweet smell of leaves burning, bourbon and ginger ale in a cup and feel the rush of another season of Ole Miss basketball, which begins at 6 p.m. CT on Friday night against UT Martin.

OK, we're not all nostalgic about the roundball Rebelbears. Most of you have probably wandered off at the thought of bourbon or are fully ingrained in the ongoing saga that is Ole Miss football.

But let me tell you: DO. NOT. MISS. THIS.

Sure, Ole Miss lost Stefan Moody, the most prolific scorer in program history. But an influx of talented under-the-radar transfers and recruits could lead to a surprisingly successful season—in fact, I’m predicting the Rebels will win 22 games.

Who's gonna take too many three pointers but somehow make some improbable ones that keep us in close games? I don't know. Are we still gonna be playin' street ball and not feeding it to the big guy down low for an easy lay-up? Most likely. Will AK wear suits on the reg that would make Steve Harvey feel ashamed? Definitely.

Here’s a look at some of the key newcomers you should keep an eye on.

Deandre Burnett

You saw him in the pre-game Florida State video with Chad Kelly, because he's related to Dalvin Cook, FSU's RB. DBurn, yes that's his new nickname I just made up, transferred in from Miami who has had a resurrected program of late, and he will be one of the long range spark plugs on offense this season. During his freshman season at Miami, he shot just under 30 percent from long range, but he will benefit from more open looks and lesser opponents this year compared to ACC play.

Cullen Neal

His dad used to party with Andy Kennedy on recruiting visits to Georgia Tech - no seriously, AK talked about it on cable TV. Any progeny of someone who can party with AK is cut out to make it in Oxford, no doubt. Neal comes from New Mexico, and if you watched the exhibition against Morehouse, you can see how Neal should step in and immediately contribute in a big way. There's a void left by Moody, and its not going to be filled by just one player on this team. Neal, however, is going to be a big part of replacing the volume scoring and improving ball movement in a way that last year's team lacked.

Justas Furmanavicius

You see the name, and you immediately think of that ugly wench from Dodgeball right? Furry Justice, new nickname, will add some bulk and nasty play off the block, averaged nearly a double double in JC ball. I'm hoping he comes in like a Kenny Williams and is intimidating in some way.

Breein Tyree

BT is going to be a contributor down the road, but I wouldn't expect a lot of output in this first season. Kid can fly for sure and looks to have a solid all-around shooting stroke.

Nate Morris

A young guy with size, exactly what the Rebels are in desperate need of - I'm eagerly waiting for the next Dwayne Curtis to walk through the doors of the Pavilion one day. Morris has had some good rumblings about him through the grapevine and given the depth down low, he's undoubtedly going to be given some minutes.

Those newcomers could mean Ole Miss is better than most expect them to be.

The preseason media projections put the Rebels at ninth in the SEC, but AK has outperformed expectations nearly every season he has been at Ole Miss.

(Note that the SEC did away with divisions in 2011-12.)

Season Predicted SEC finish Actual SEC finish
15-16 9th 6th (tied)
14-15 6th 3rd (tied)
13-14 7th 5th (tied)
12-13 7th 2nd (tied)
11-12 7th 4th (tied)
10-11 2nd in West 3rd in West (tied)
09-10 2nd in West 1st in West (tied)
08-09 3rd in West 4th in West (tied)
07-08 6th in West 3rd in West
06-07 6th in West 1st in West

Don't fret, Rebel basketball fans, this team is going to be very competitive in a league that lacks depth behind Kentucky (shocker) and Georgia, a team I think will be great with returners J.J. Frazier and Yante Maten.

The good news is that the Rebels face Kentucky and Georgia at home this season, giving them the potential for some upset victories to give this newly formed team some confidence down the stretch.

This is what Ole Miss basketball has become though - finding JC and college transfers to fill spots of immediate need for offensive output. It always seems like it will be a long shot to work, but Andy Kennedy knows how to make these teams gel and beat the odds. This year, depending on how competitive the SEC is, could end with a trip to the Big Dance.