Kennedy looks for more improvement from Rebs

Ole Miss-South Alabama men's basketball today at 7 p.m. at Tad Smith Coliseum. Ole Miss won the game between the two teams last year in Mobile, Ala., 82-72.

There was a spring in their step Monday. The smiles were wider. The laughter louder. Saturday's 97-63 win over Valley State seemed to push them into the season.

Now things get tougher. But they welcome it. Ole Miss hosts South Alabama today at 7 p.m., and the Rebels know they have to pick it up, that the same production they had against the Delta Devils won't do as the season grows.

The Jaguars are under a new head coach. Or make that a new old head coach. Not in years but in the "former" sense. Ronnie Arrow replaced John Pelphrey at the USA helm after the former Kentucky star headed to become the head hog caller last spring.

Arrow returned after having been let go 13 years earlier. When he was head coach the first time around, he gave Andy Kennedy his first job. The second-year Rebel head man is appreciative.

"This is kind of an interesting situation for me personally. Ronnie Arrow gave me my first job in his first stint at South Alabama."

Not only that, there's more that makes this one an intriguing matchup for Kennedy.

"Two of his starters, Domonoic Tilford and Deandrae Coleman played for me at Cincinnati when I was the head coach there. So it's kind of an interesting twist for me."

Kennedy knows what to expect from a Ronnie Arrow coached team.

"They will always be tough. They will be fundamentally sound. They will be fast. They've got a really fast point guard in (Daon) Merritt, who is 5-8, 190-pounds, a little bowling ball who can get it up and down the floor. So the pace of the game both teams will enjoy. Both teams want to play fast. We just need to make sure we improve as a group."

Strangely enough, Kennedy's situation at South Alabama was a bit like the one he experienced at Cincinnati. Arrow was let go early in that season, just four or five games in, and Kennedy and others were left to finish out the season. At Cincy, it was Kennedy who took over for Bob Huggins when he was fired in the summer before the 2005-06 season.

But Arrow is back now years later, and Kennedy says the Jags, who return three starters, are good.

"They have some players who have been through the wars and a lot of those kids are returning," he said of USA, which beat West Florida 73-41 in the season opener Saturday. "They have some size along the front line. It will be a much more traditional matchup for our guys."

Kennedy wants to see improved production from his team with each passing game. It's a big week for the Rebels as they host Lamar Friday at 7 p.m.

"Every game I'm hopeful we'll settle in a little more," he said. "There's always a lot of anxiety early, not knowing how much guys are going to play, not really understanding what goes along with being prepared to play at the Division I level. We saw some of that Saturday. We'll see some more of that this week. As the season moves along, guys will settle into their roles better."

Kennedy said it was good to be able to get so many players some quality minutes against MVSU.

"We ended up playing 10 guys over 15 minutes. That's hard to do. That probably won't be the norm all season but I don't know that. We'll just have to see how this team adapts."

Including games against increasingly better competition, beginning with South Alabama tonight.

"They're a good basketball team," Kennedy said. "We're going to have to play well."

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