He’s taken the sport by storm, having drawn comparisons to some of the greatest to ever pick up a basketball, including LeBron James. His passing ability as a big (Simmons is every bit of 6-10) has even linked him to Magic Johnson, a player who transcended position. Johnson played all five in his career - from point guard to power forward - and averaged 11.2 assists per game.
The praise for Simmons has come from all directions, and there’s little debate about his NBA Draft projection. He’s considered by many to be the best, most NBA-ready talent since Anthony Davis, and he’ll go No. 1 to whichever team is lucky enough to get their ping pong ball selected in the draft lottery.
Ole Miss will get its first look at Simmons Wednesday night in Baton Rouge. But head coach Andy Kennedy is already well-aware of his talent. And he’s a fan, to say the least.
“Ben Simmons is inarguably the best player in college basketball,” he said.
The Simmons-led Tigers are 9-6 (2-1 SEC) on the year after knocking off Kentucky 85-67 at home before falling on the road at Florida 68-62 on Saturday. Simmons ranks first in the SEC in rebounding at 13.1 per game, and he’s third in scoring at 20.6 points per game. He also leads the conference in double-doubles with 12. He’s third in assists with 5.1 per game.
Put simply, the Rebels have yet to see a player like him, and with the return of sophomore forward Craig Victor and senior Keith Hornsby, the Tigers are rounding into form as SEC play really begins to take off.
“I’ve watched them casually in the non-league play and just really, really impressed - like everybody in the country - with Ben Simmons and how he’s be able to come in and dominate college basketball,” Kennedy said. “Now that they have their full-complement of players with Hornsby and Craig Victor joining the team in the last few weeks, I think they’re a very, very good basketball team.”
“I think the uniqueness about him is he’s a freshman,” LSU head coach Johnny Jones said of Simmons. “Just the poise he has out there on the floor and the game and his approach has been really, really good. A lot has been said about him. The good thing for a young man like that is he’s been able to stay the course in what’s needed for him and stay really focused in on what he thinks is best for him. That’s what I’ve been so impressed with. He’s been a tremendous teammate in trying to get the guys around him better.”
Ole Miss 12-3 (2-1 SEC) is riding high after a memorable week in which it claimed back-to-back come-from-behind wins over Alabama and Georgia to christen The Pavilion at Ole Miss - its new, state-of-the-art $96.5 million arena. Senior guard Stefan Moody posted 29 points in the Rebels’ win over the Bulldogs, and he leads the SEC and ranks sixth nationally in scoring this season at 23.9 points per game.
Kennedy, echoing similar sentiments from last week, said The Pavilion has been a game-changer for Ole Miss basketball.
“Never in the history of our program have we had something that can truly be a centerpiece and a calling-card for our program,” he said. “We just experienced a 72 hours unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of with the opening and us playing Alabama and the sellout crowd and the passion and the emotion and pride that was in the building. And then you turn right back around within 48 hours and you have ribbon-cutting ceremony where it’s basically the official opening of the building, and you play a very good Georgia team. For us to win in the fashion in which we did, it was truly an amazing weekend and one I hope is a springboard for things to come.”
Rebel Tip-ins: The series with the Tigers, which began in 1909, is the second-longest in Ole Miss basketball history … LSU leads the all-time series 119-87 … The Rebels have won seven of the last 10 meetings over the Tigers, but dropped a road game in Baton Rouge 73-63 last year … The Tigers hold a 78-29 advantage in games in Baton Rouge, but Ole Miss has taken three of the last five meetings at the PMAC … Ole Miss ranks No. 50 in the latest Ratings Percentage Index released by the NCAA, while LSU checks in at No. 129 … The Rebels are 5-2 against RPI top 125 teams including wins over Alabama, Georgia, Georgia State, Louisiana Tech and Memphis.