Flying South

There's already talk about basketball RPI numbers and it's still December.

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But that's what happens when a team's number is high. Ole Miss' was a week ago, at 10 then but now at 35. Southern Mississippi's is still up there, currently at 12.

The two meet in Hattiesburg today at 3:30 p.m.

"It's certainly an opportunity, because at the end of the day, aren't we all relegated to numbers?" Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. "What you end up doing is going back and looking at numbers. So numbers are important, and this game has a lot of significance as it relates to those (RPI) numbers."

It's also a chance, according to Ole Miss sophomore guard Dundrecous Nelson, for the Rebels to make some more early-season noise.

"This is a big game for us," said Nelson, the Rebels' leading scorer with 21 points in a 66-54 win against Louisiana-Lafayette in Ole Miss' most recent game. "(USM is) high in the RPI, so if we're able to get that game, it would help us out. Each game is a big game, but this game is really a big one for us."

Ole Miss, at 9-1, has won six games in a row since its lone loss to Marquette. The Golden Eagles are 7-2 this season and haven't hosted Ole Miss in Hattiesburg since Dec. 22, 1994.

USM and its fans will be eagerly awaiting the Rebels' visit.

"Southern Miss will be a tough game," Kennedy said following Wednesday night's win against the Ragin' Cajuns. "It's the next step in the maturation of this group. So I'm anxious to see how we respond."

Ole Miss fans are also anxious to see if Kennedy lets freshman transfer Jelan Kendrick play, the McDonald's All-American in high school that came to Ole Miss from the University of Memphis a year ago. He had to sit out a year from competition by NCAA rule, had sports hernia surgery a month ago, and was apparently all set to play in Wednesday's home game.

But that wasn't the case, and a specific reason wasn't stated.

"Just a coach's decision. Just not ready to put on the uniform yet," Kennedy said of the remaining piece of the 2011-12 puzzle for the Rebels. "To me that's a big deal. I'm the head coach of Mississippi, and you've got to earn the right to put the uniform on."

Dundrecous Nelson
Bruce Newman

Kennedy acknowledged the healing process of the surgery is at least a part of the equation. But apparently there is more.

"That certainly has something to do with it, because that set him back from a progress standpoint," Kennedy said of Kendrick's health. "I want to be fair to him. I want to be fair to this team. We're 10 games in, so he's got to be ready, right, wrong, or indifferent, to be able to come in as if he is on pace at 10 games. Until he's ready for that physically, mentally, emotionally, that's what rendered the decision."

USM will have a new addition to its team if it chooses to play him against the Rebels. Darnell Dodson, who has served a suspension with the university, has been reinstated to the team, according to a statement released Friday afternoon by head coach Larry Eustachy.

The statement said the 6-foot-7 Dodson fulfilled all obligations and is eligible to return to campus. Dodson, a senior who transferred to Southern Miss in January of 2011 from Kentucky, was dismissed from the team and university last March following a campus incident. The 12th Circuit Court placed Dodson in the Forrest/Perry Community Service program in September.

Dodson is eligible to rejoin the basketball team and will enroll for his final semester at Southern Miss in January. He is expected to graduate in May.

Kennedy said he expects a well-coached, athletic Southern Miss team that will face his Rebels.

"I know from watching their scores they have been very, very competitive," he said.

USM has won its last three games to get to 7-2. Eustachy's club has a quality road win at Colorado State, and its only losses are at Denver and in double overtime against still undefeated Murray State (currently No. 24 in AP poll) in the Great Alaska Shootout. Murray State won at Memphis last Sunday afternoon.

The Golden Eagles are 3-0 at home, including their most recent 78-62 win over Louisiana Tech, coached by former Ole Miss player and assistant coach Michael White.

USM averages 73.9 points per game to its opponents' 63.2. The Eagles out-rebound their opponents by 6.3 per game.

Four Golden Eagles average double-figure points, led by Lashay Page at 15.3 ppg. Maurice Bolden adds 12.8 ppg and 7.2 rpg, while Angelo Johnson chips in 12.4 ppg and Neil Watson 10.7 ppg.

Ole Miss leads the overall series 18-5 and has a 4-3 advantage in Hattiesburg. The Rebels and Southern Miss have met three times in the current series. Ole Miss claimed wins in Southaven and Oxford. USM got a win in Biloxi.

Kennedy likes the series.

"The reason we did it, and honestly I took some criticism for scheduling the series, was that we thought it would be good for both programs, and I think it has," he said. "It brings some exposure to basketball in the state of Mississippi in December, and I think that's a good thing. I know that Larry's teams are going to be prepared, they're going to be tough, and they're not going to give you anything. You have to execute. You have to make the right decisions with the ball or you're not going to be able to be very fluid."

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