MILWAUKEE - The Ole Miss Rebels traveled more than 700 miles to play their first three basketball games of the 2004-05 season. Wednesday morning, they'll head back home that same distance.
In terms of being competitive against decent Division I basketball and Southeastern Conference teams in the upcoming days and weeks and months, they appear to have a lot farther to go than that.
The Rebels lost to Illinois State 70-52 on the third day of the BCA Tournament here. The game may not have been that close.
This was a Redbird team picked in the preseason, according to ISU second-year head coach Porter Moser, last in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Couple that with the previous evening's 60-36 setback to Air Force, and you can see that a long way to go is maybe even a bit of an understatement concerning these Rebels.
Everybody who'd been keeping up since the end of last season knew things could be rough for Ole Miss at the start of this season. Heck, after watching three games here, it may be that way all season.
As the game against Illinois State progressed, I found myself opening up the press release from Ole Miss athletics media relations assistant director Kyle Campbell and flipping to the page that lists the names and information of the recent seven who've signed to play for Ole Miss. It seriously was the only time I felt better during the Rebel-Redbird contest.
I'm almost sure I know, because I have tuned into Ole Miss men's basketball for years on the radio during times when things weren't going well, just how painful it must have been to listen back home.
Based on the scores of the 11 games in this tournament and where the teams were thought to be coming in, I'd still say we left as the fourth best ballclub in the field. But we certainly didn't play that way, at least the last two days.
We beat South Carolina State, which finished 2-1 here, by 12 points; SCSU then beat Penn State by 20 and Jacksonville State by eight.
Jacksonville State beat Western Carolina by 16, and the Catamounts of WCU also lost to Penn State by 15 and Marquette by 11.
JSU also lost to Air Force by 17. The Nittany Lions also fell to Illinois State by nine.
Marquette won the championship by beating Air Force 69-65 in the finale.
It does indeed appear the Rebels were fourth, after Marquette, Air Force, and Illinois State. Better than SC State (who we beat), Penn State, Jacksonville State, and Western Carolina. At this point, it's too bad we didn't get a shot at the latter three. We needed another win here, and we might have gotten it against one of them.
Enough of the relatively useless info on the games up here. What you want to know is where we go from here as a team.
That's a tough one to answer. The Rebels had no inside game this week. Senior center Tommie Eddie, who had worked so hard to lose weight and to become a more effective big man, was, well, ineffective, to say the least. Such a hard worker, such a personable young man. But if Tommie Eddie is to help this team, and for Ole Miss to win he has to, then he has to improve in a hurry. Rod Barnes knows that's the case.
"I'm concerned about Tommie Eddie at this point, because he went into this season with high expectations," Rod said of the senior bigman who had numerous turnovers in the paint, had a hard time handling the basketball down low, and had 12 points total in three games. "We've got to get him to play better. We've got to get some positive things from him that we're not getting right now."
It's that way all across the board offensively for the Rebels. Ole Miss averaged 50 points a game in three outings here - against South Carolina State, Air Force, and Illinois State. That isn't exactly Kentucky, Florida, and Mississippi State. Or Memphis, LSU, Florida State, and Alabama.
If ever a Rebel team needed a couple of exhibition games before heading up here, it was this particular team.
Freshman center Jeremy Parnell played like a freshman. He will be good in time. For the Rebels' sake, he needs to be good as soon as possible.
"We need Jeremy to get us at least six or eight a night, but we're not getting that from him yet," Rod said.
Sophomore Todd Abernethy played well and led the team at the point. It will be good for all concerned to get injured senior Cavadas Nunnery back on the court to spell Todd at times.
Sophomore Bam Doyne showed some signs of promise, leading the Rebels in scoring with 11 against Illinois State.
But a lot of players showed signs. They just didn't last that long and were mostly different players game to game.
"We've got to get more from Justin Johnson and Kendrick Fox," Rod said.
It's perhaps a little scary to think that Johnson and Fox might be the go-to guys for this team, or at least in the mix for that title. It's more of an experience factor than anything. Johnson had a good first game here with 15 points, and Fox can score as he has shown in the past.
Freshman Brandon Patterson got some valuable playing time, and senior Marvin Moore showed signs (there's that phrase again) of his athleticism and toughness - at times. But again it wasn't often enough.
Junior Londrick Nolen, who scored nine against SC State and nine against ISU, had none against Air Force. The Rebels for sure need him to become a go-to guy and soon.
And so it went for Ole Miss. Little consistency, especially offensively. And the defense, the Rebels' trademark year after year, couldn't carry the load for three straight days.
"I do like that we are a hard-fighting group," Rod said, searching right now for any positives he can find. "But what I don't like so far is that we haven't had guys to step up and score. We had some great opportunities and some great looks. We just didn't get it done.
"These three games helped us," Rod continued. "We got an opportunity to see all our players. Now we see where we are and what we have to do. As coaches, we'll go back and make the adjustments needed to get us back in the win column."
Rebels know they must improve in a hurry
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