Last season, the sophomore forward was injured midway through Ole Miss' conference schedule. At the time, the Rebels, who finished 24-11 overall, were 4-2 against Southeastern Conference opponents. Without Buckner, their imposing post presence, they endured a 1-5 losing skid, placing Ole Miss squarely on the bubble for a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Ole Miss eventually settled for the National Invitation Tournament, its season ending in the semifinals to, of course, Dayton.
"I know what he brings to our team from last year," head coach Andy Kennedy said Tuesday.
Not even a year later, Ole Miss again faces uncertainty in its front court. And, once more, said uncertainty surrounds Buckner. The 6-foot-8, 238-pound Buckner suffered a bone bruise to his knee in the first minute of the second half in Saturday's 78-71, overtime loss to Dayton.
Kennedy said Buckner is day to day, and Buckner's status for Friday's game with Penn State should become clearer over the practice week.
"He's got a bone bruise," Kennedy said. "No ligament, no cartilage (damage). Everything's fine. He took an impact to the inside of his knee. He's sore. We'll see how he responds. His game is based a lot on athleticism. If he doesn't feel like he's 100 percent, he's not going to be as effective, so we'll just do what the trainers and the doctors tell us."
Buckner has started all three games for Ole Miss (2-1) this season. Prior to Buckner's injury against Dayton, Ole Miss held a 19-15 advantage in rebounds. By the end of the game, the Flyers had tallied 51 boards to Ole Miss' 35.
"I wish (Buckner's importance to the team) wasn't as profound," Kennedy said. "He gives us quite a presence at the basket, athletically. He can get hard rebounds. He gives you such a defensive presence. If you tally the games in which he's been healthy and played more than 15 minutes since he's been at Ole Miss, he's typically blocked three to four shots and altered another four or five.
"You're talking about a guy who is personally responsible, defensively, for double-figure points. Him not being in the game, we lose a little of that edge."
Kennedy said if Buckner were unable to go Friday, to expect the roles of junior Terrance Henry and freshman Demarco Cox to significantly increase. Kennedy said the same for Steadman Short, who is in his first season at Ole Miss after joining the program in the signing class of 2010.
"Well, certainly some of those other guys will be thrust into a bigger role," Kennedy said. "Terrance, obviously, has evolved into a guy who plays heavy minutes for us. Steadman Short, Demarco Cox – their roles would obviously change tremendously. It would be bad timing, because Penn State is very big, very physical along their front line."
Henry said Buckner's value to the team is unparalleled.
"With him, we could do a lot of things defensively and offensively," Henry said. "He is our best rebounder. Everybody saw that Saturday. With him going down, it was a problem for us winning the game. But we can't blame that on Reggie going down, because we still had chances to win."
Slow start for Warren:
Senior point guard Chris Warren has gotten off to an uncharacteristically slow start to the 2010 season.
After scoring 26 points in a season-opening win over Arkansas State, Warren has cooled considerably from the field. He managed a mere 10 points vs. Murray State, when his record streak of 46 games with at least one 3-pointer was snapped, and only 11 in the loss to Dayton.
Warren was 4 of 17 in his shot attempts against the Flyers, including 1 of 12 from the 3-point line. Warren is 2 for 21 from the 3-point line through three games.
"We analyzed every look he had," Kennedy said. "I can't think of him shooting it that poorly since he's been here. Of those 12 looks, we analyzed as a staff with him, we would take 11 of them again tomorrow. We thought he had clean looks. It just so happens it just didn't go down for him. As a result, we've all been so dependent upon him, we came up a little short."
This isn't the first slow start to a season in Warren's basketball career. Kennedy said Warren approached him after the loss to Dayton, reminding Kennedy of his senior season at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Fla.
"To show you what kind of competitor this kid is," Kennedy said, "I was speaking to him after what was one of the poorest performances he's had in a Rebel uniform, and he knows that, and he said, ‘Coach, I started the same way my senior year of high school. And you know how that ended up.' He was playing in a state championship game when he had 41 (points).
"He told me to make me feel better. And it did."
On to Penn State:
Friday will be the first meeting between Ole Miss and Penn State. The Nittany Lions are 4-0 after securing wins over Lehigh, Saint Joseph's Fairfield and Central Connecticut State.
Penn State is led by by senior forward Jeff Brooks, who sits with a team-high 17.0 points per game. Brooks pulls down, on average, 7.5 rebounds per game. Senior point guard Talor Battle, a preseason candidate for several national awards, is second with 16.3 points per game and 4.8 rebounds per game.
"Big, physical, well-coached," Kennedy said of Penn State. "They've got the Big Ten's leading scorer returning in Talor Battle. It'll be a great matchup between him a Chris, because I would assume that he would guard Chris, and my assumption going in is Chris would guard him.
"They're a team that is going to try to beat you from the inside-out. They're very big on their front line, so that's why Reggie, if he's not able to go, it's going to put an added pressure on some of those new guys."