He believes the Rebels can be better. He’s seen a different team in practice. One that is much more efficient on both ends of the floor, at least when compared to the group that’s showed up in games so far this season.
A hungrier team. A more locked-in team.
“I’m frustrated because I know what I see,” Kennedy said. Ole Miss hosts Bradley tonight at 8 p.m. CT on SEC Network.
The Rebels have flashed NCAA Tournament potential. They have a 41 RPI and are No. 93 in the KenPom ratings. Yet mental lapses continue to plague them, especially late in game — a recipe for potential disaster in the weeks ahead if left uncorrected. Ole Miss opens SEC play Dec. 29 against No. 6 Kentucky.
“We’re at 7-3,” senior forward Sebastian Saiz, who leads the SEC and ranks eighth nationally with 11.6 rebounds per game. He has five double-doubles this season, also best in the conference. “We’ve got great guys. We’re capable of playing against anybody. We play hard. Sometimes we’ve just got to keep it up for 40 minutes, keep it up the whole game. Good teams are going to beat us (if we don’t).”
The Rebels have a troubling tendency to relax when wins seem all but assured, and they’ve come ever so close to paying the ultimate price as a result. In their most-recent win over Murray State, Ole Miss led by 20 with nine minutes to play. However, a 29-14 Racer run turned what was a blowout into just a five-point Ole Miss final.
The Rebels led by 15 against Montana on Thanksgiving. Montana reeled off a 27-17 spurt in the final eight minutes made for a narrow, by-the-skin-of-their teeth 86-81 Rebel win. There was UT-Martin in their season opener when they led by 11 with four minutes remaining. UT-Martin charged late. Ole Miss found a way to hang on and escape, 86-83.
On and on. Ole Miss needed an 11-0 run over the final three minutes to overcome UMass. Saiz won it on a buzzer-beater. The Rebels trailed Oral Roberts by five with just under 90 seconds left in regulation. Deandre Burnett’s heroics (he finished with an absurd 41 points) forced overtime. The Rebels doubled up Oral Roberts in the extra period, 16-8.
“Defense is where we’re lacking the most,” Saiz said. “It’s just about effort. We’ve showed we’re capable of guarding really good. We’ve gotten some really good stops. Sometimes we relax. If you relax for a second, boom, your guy is going to get you.”
“He’s the only guy, honestly, that deserves to be playing 30 minutes a game, and I trust him out there,” Kennedy said of Saiz. “He’s going to give you an honest day’s work. He’s not always going to make all the right plays, but he’s going to give you great effort, and you know where his head and his heart are.”
Ole Miss will try to take the next step against Bradley. The Braves are 5-6 on the season and have lost three of their last four games. Ole Miss and Bradley have met just four previous times, with Ole Miss winning last year’s meeting 67-54. The Braves lead the all-time series 3-1.
“I know what we’re capable of, and I know this team has to live on a razor’s edge as it relates to focus, toughness and execution,” Kennedy said. “We refuse to live on that edge because that edge is difficult. It’s difficult to live there. And some of our guys, for whatever reason, have not committed to living there. That’s where we have to live if we’re going to win games. I’ve got to convince them of that.”