Note: Scout.com went to its experts at each of the 12 SEC schools to put together preseason scouting reports for all the league teams while also polling our writers to determine their picks to win the division and overall league titles.
By Jeff Roberson
Ole Miss Spirit
There is hope heading into Andy Kennedy’s fourth season as head basketball coach at Ole Miss. Hope that this year won’t be anything like last year.
Well, maybe in a handful of ways. The Rebels certainly played hard and gave it all they had in a 16-15 season, along with compiling a 7-9 Southeastern Conference record. And some younger players who weren’t expected to help stepped up and did their share.
By Jeff Roberson
Three players were out with knee injuries. Eniel Polynice, a junior guard, played a little early but was out of action way before conference play began. Sophomore guard Trevor Gaskins didn’t get that far. He was hurt in the preseason. Starting sophomore point guard Chris Warren injured his knee in a game in Cincinnati against Louisville in the SEC-Big East Showdown in mid-December. SEC Predicted Order of Finish SEC East 1. Kentucky 2. Tennessee 3. Florida 4. South Carolina 5. Vanderbilt 6. Georgia SEC West 1. Mississippi State 2. Ole Miss 3. LSU 4. Alabama 5. Arkansas 6. Auburn Overall League Champion: Kentucky
All three were lost for the season. So were much of the Rebels’ hopes for a return to the NCAA Tournament, a place the program hasn’t been since 2002 when Ole Miss lost to UCLA in a first-round game in Pittsburgh.
It should be easy to see by now that the Rebels have hope – if their knees and other body parts don’t fail them in 2009-10.
“We’ve had a great offseason,” said Kennedy prior to the start of fall practice in mid-October. “The guys are working. I couldn’t be more pleased with how they’ve approached the preseason.”
The Rebel backcourt is strong with the return of the injured guards. But the star of the whole group may be sophomore Terrico White, who was SEC Freshman-of-the-Year last season and played on the gold medal-winning Team USA U-19 squad over the summer.
“The main thing I got out of it was improving my leadership,” said White, who as a true freshman actually had to step up and take over at point guard when fellow guards all around him were being eliminated from competition due to those injuries. “I believe it helped me be more vocal. My focus was also to get better on defense.”
The inside game is a bit of a question mark for the Rebels. Returning senior DeAundre Cranston, a junior college transfer last season, will be called upon to help out in the middle. He averaged only 3.1 points per game last season along with 4.2 rebounds.
Four-star 6-8 freshman forward Reggie Buckner and 6-9 junior college transfer DeAngelo Riley will be called on for playing time in the middle. So will 6-9 sophomore Terrance Henry who has gained weight and gotten bigger and is at 200 pounds now, up from 185 when he arrived last season.
“Terrance got swallowed up in traffic last year,” said Kennedy, who led Ole Miss to the NIT his first two years as head coach, including a New York trip to the semis two seasons ago. “He really put a lot of time in during the offseason on skill development. Physical strength is his biggest development, though. He’s able to battle through contact rather than allowing the physicality of the game to change what he can do.”
Murphy Holloway, a 6-7 sophomore, had a strong first season in the program, rebounding 6.6 misses per game and averaging 8.4 points in 22 minutes.
“Murphy is bigger and stronger,” Kennedy said. “We’re hoping to get a more consistent level of production from him, and we think we will.”
Gone from the program are two keys to the Rebs’ success the past couple of years. Guard David Huertas, who would have been a senior this season and led the team last season in scoring at 18.1 points per game, left early to play pro basketball, while center Malcolm White, a sophomore, chose to transfer to his home state team, LSU.
Filling in the gaps created by those two departures is a key to the Rebel season in 2009-10, and keeping their fingers crossed that major injuries are behind them will be an ongoing process.
“Even though we have only one senior on the roster (Cranston), we have experienced guys,” Kennedy said. “That will hopefully bode well for this team. Guys, for a variety of reasons last year, were given opportunities. Now I hope we can use it to our advantage.”
Three players were out with knee injuries. Eniel Polynice, a junior guard, played a little early but was out of action way before conference play began. Sophomore guard Trevor Gaskins didn’t get that far. He was hurt in the preseason. Starting sophomore point guard Chris Warren injured his knee in a game in Cincinnati against Louisville in the SEC-Big East Showdown in mid-December.
SEC Predicted Order of Finish
4. South Carolina
1. Mississippi State
2. Ole Miss
Overall League Champion: Kentucky