Andy Kennedy/Petre Thomas

Ole Miss basketball will travel to face Virginia Tech Sunday

Ole Miss will travel to face Virginia Tech Sunday in the Rebels' first true road test of the season. Head coach Andy Kennedy discussed the trip, among other topics, with local media recently.

On how finals week has affected the players 

“I can tell sometimes, mentally, it’s obviously a draining week for them because it’s the culmination of a semester’s worth of work. We’ve tried to be as productive as possible. We’ve got four really important games leading into the Christmas break prior to starting SEC play. What I’m hoping to see is our team make improvements. We’ve got enough of a sample size now through eight games to know where we’re good and know where we need work. We’re starting to get a better understanding of guys and the positions we can put them in in order to be successful. What we tried to do this week and will continue to do is continue to work on the areas that need some improvement.”

On his read of the team 

“After the Middle (Tennessee) game we made some lineup changes to put different guys in different combinations to try to not only maximize each individual player’s strength, but also, collectively, try to bridge the gap in some areas that were lacking. I thought by putting (point guard) Breein (Tyree) in the starting lineup initially it gave us a little more ball pressure and gave us a little more athleticism in the back court. Breein’s getting better and better as he gets healthier and more comfortable. I think both situations I’ve put him in early this year — whether it be starting the second half off against Middle, where he energized us and allowed us to play much better in the second 20 minutes, to starting against Memphis, where we got off to a good start — I think he’s a component of our team that we haven’t been able to use, quite frankly, until about a week or 10 days ago just because of his health and where he was physically. As he continues to get stronger, his role will continue to expand. I think that will allow us some more versatility, especially in our back court.”

On Virginia Tech 

“I think they’re a really good basketball team. They’re 7-1, their only loss being to Texas A&M in a three-point game in which they led by double figures for the majority of the game. Texas A&M, who’s very, very talented and athletic at the basket, just really hurt them on the glass and allowed A&M the opportunities they needed to get that one-possession win. Other than that, they’ve looked pretty flawless. They went into Michigan, and Michigan had them on the ropes in Ann Arbor for the majority of the game, but (Virginia Tech) hung around and hung around and hung around and came out with a three-point win. They’ve beaten New Mexico earlier in the year by 20 points. They beat Nebraska earlier in the year by 13 points. They’re a good basketball team. It’s typical Buzz Williams. They’re going to be tough, they’re not going to give you anything easy. He’s doing it in a variety of ways through versatility. They’ve got four guys in double figures with a fifth and sixth guy around eight, eight and a half a game. They’ve got a lot of different weapons. This is the next step for us. It’s our first true road game, ACC environment. I’m sure it will be full of energy. I’m anxious to see how our guys respond. I’ve been very transparent early in the year about my frustration with this group in their ability to communicate with one another on the court. This is going to be the ultimate test of that.”

On the first true road game of the season 

“I think they’re looking forward to it. That and the fact that it’s an ACC opponent, a program, I guess, in year three of Buzz’s tenure there that’s really on the upswing. Going into the year many people thought that they were going to make a breakthrough and finish in the upper half of that league, which would put them squarely in NCAA Tournament contention. From what I’ve seen in scouting them and preparing for the game, I don’t disagree. I think he’s got a very good team. He’s got a team that’s an NCAA Tournament-quality team. It’s a big test for us, but in which will give us an opportunity to learn some more about ourselves. Now that we’ve got eight games under our belt, now it’s time for a lot of our guys to take that next step in consistency, and take that next step in really forming a brotherhood on the court and be an ultimate team. We’ve shown that in spurts. It’s time for us to be more consistent in that manner, and this will be the ultimate test in that regard.”

On the game-day environment at Virginia Tech 

“I guess it was in year two and Seth Greenberg was the coach. They had just missed out on the NCAA Tournament. They might have been one of those teams that were just right there. They were a No. 1 seed in the NIT and we went in there and I remember it being a sold-out crowd. It was an older building. Very, very loud. We played an excellent game and were fortunate enough to win it. That gave us a chance to go to the NIT Final Four for the first time in our program’s history. It’s going to take an A-plus game from us. We’re going to have to go in there with the right approach, be really locked in to scouting report. We’ve had a long time to look at Tech. With this week only having the one game, which is unusual, it gives us a long time to digest exactly what our game plan is in trying to go in there and pull a road win against an ACC opponent. I think our guys are really excited about it. I know that we’ll go in and be locked in and focus. We’ve just got to go out and make the plays.”

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