There isn’t much else to write, big picture, about Ole Miss’ non-conference schedule. It’s over and the Rebels came out pretty well. They’re well-positioned to push for the postseason with No. 6 Kentucky up next to open SEC play Dec. 29. And it’s in the conference slate where Ole Miss will begin its NCAA Tournament resume-building in earnest.
Bottom line, South Alabama was terrible, Ole Miss won and everybody was ready to go home for Christmas. Still, the Rebels’ picked up their third-straight win, and Sebastian Saiz posted his 16th career double-double with a ridiculous 23 points and 16 rebounds. And Saiz is who we’ll dedicate this space to on a rather innocuous night for Ole Miss basketball. Because Sebastian Saiz doesn’t get the credit he deserves as one of the greatest players in school history.
Saiz leads the SEC and ranks sixth nationally pulling down nearly 12 rebounds a game. He now has seven double-doubles this season in 12 games, which leads the conference and ranks 13th in the nation. He’s averaging over 15 points and nearly 13 rebounds over the last 10 games, and he’s the only player in the SEC this season averaging a double-double. He’s the SEC’s active career leader with 728 rebounds, closing in on Coolidge Ball, who ranks 10th in school history with 754 career boards.
Andy Kennedy has said it before, but it bears repeating: Saiz is easily one of the best post players he’s ever coached (right alongside Dwayne Curtis and Murphy Holloway), and he’s inarguably one of the best big men, at least statistically, to don the red and blue. Let’s be honest: Ole Miss doesn’t have a storied tradition of basketball excellence. Even still, it’s had its share of incredibly productive big men. John Stroud is John Stroud, and the names of decorated additional players to come through Ole Miss is fairly extensive: Ansu Sesay, Holloway, Curtis, Rahim Lockhart, Country Graham and Denver Brackeen.
But Saiz deserves a seat at the table. He dominated South Alabama, and Ole Miss blew the Jaguars out as a result. With another outing like Thursday, he’ll enter the Top 10 in school history in rebounding. He’s also pushing to become just the 38th player in school history to score 1,000 points in a career, and that’s despite suffering injury setback after injury setback.
Kennedy wore a red, wrapping-paper-like suit jacket Thursday night. He was in the Christmas spirit, apparently. He admitted said if Saiz continues on his current record-breaking path, he might give the jacket to him. And that won’t be the only reward Saiz earns. Not when you’re one of the best to ever do it at Ole Miss.
Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy
On the win: “I thought we had moments where we looked like a good basketball team. We still have too many breakdowns for my taste, but I was pleased. These games scare you to death as a coach ‘cause you know where your kids’ minds are. Like all of us, man, you get close to the holidays, everybody needs a little bit of a break. But I thought we came out with great intensity. We got a lot of different guys minutes, which I thought was important. Breein Tyree continues to get better and better. I thought Cullen (Neal) probably had his best floor game of the season. Making plays in the open floor defensively, I think we’re getting better and better. We’re improving and, boy, it’s time to improve because it’s going to get real for us really quickly.” On the improvement defensively: “We’ve made some adjustments to some things just based on rotations. We’ve cleaned up the way we’re in ball screens at times. We’re trying to change our looks to keep people off balance. We’re trying to figure out after 12 games a better feel of what this team’s capable of doing defensively. We’re going to try to put them in a position to do that, and then they’ve got to go make the plays like they did tonight.” On Justas Furmanavicius: “I thought his energy was outstanding. He got out in the open floor, made some plays. He’s got to defensive rebound a little better for us because we’re playing him at that 4 spot because that’s where the minutes are. I thought he did a great job of finishing in traffic tonight for the first time.” On if tonight was the Justas he expected to see earlier in the year: “Definitely. That’s something that we’ve got to get. I’ve challenged him and (Marcanvis Hymon) both, we need more out of that 4, because people aren’t really honoring them. They’re using that extra defender to clog up the lane for Sebas. Sebas has had a monster year to this point. That’s going to continue to be the case until they improve. Nights like tonight makes you second-think that in scouting because Justas had 13 in 21 minutes and made some plays for us.”
OXFORD – (AP) Sebastian Saiz recorded his seventh double-double of the season, 23 points and 16rebounds and Mississippi placed five players in double figures Thursday to defeat South Alabama 92-58.
DeAndre Burnett scored 21 points, Justas Furmanavicius had 13, Cullen Neal added 11 and Terence Davis had 10 points to lead a balanced Ole Miss (9-3) effort. The Rebels shot 29 of 59, 49 percent, including 8 of 22, 36 percent and out rebounded South Alabama 50-35.
Nick Stover and Georgi Boyanov led South Alabama (7-6) with 17 and 10 points, respectively. The Jags, trailing 46-26 at halftime, managed only 19 of 66, 29 percent, from the field, including 5 of 23, 21 percent, from 3-point range.
South Alabama: The Jaguars took impressive non-conference wins against UNLV and Florida International, but have struggled since Thanksgiving, going 2-6. South Alabama opened 3 of 23, 13 percent, from the field and never seriously threatened.
Ole Miss: Picked ninth in the preseason SEC media poll, the guard-rich Rebels have quietly put together a 9-3 non-conference record with a No. 41 RPI rating. In the past five seasons, Ole Miss has finished higher than what they were picked in the preseason media poll.
The Rebels are 4-1 in December. Thursday's SEC home opener with Kentucky followed by road trips to Florida and Auburn should go a long way in determining just how good this team can be.
South Alabama open Sun Belt Conference play by hosting Troy on Jan. 2.
Ole Miss hosts Kentucky Thursday in the SEC opener, wrapping up a four-game home stand.