Orlando contest big for both teams

These Ole Miss Rebels are getting votes. They're scoring 95 points a game. They're making some folks – many of their own fans and hoops watchers across the country – take notice.

Now 6-0 and sniffing at, but still well below, the bottom rung of a top 25 poll or two, the Ole Miss Rebels take their successful home show on the road tonight in Orlando. A good Central Florida team awaits.

Who knows what to expect? I don't, and some of that feeling of unknowing or uncertainty comes from, well, the unknowns. Like how does a team with so many new guys contributing win its first road game?

I don't know how many fans will be there tonight in the new 10,000-seat UCF arena. The Golden Knights have averaged around 5,000 for three home games so far. There's been a pretty big buildup to this game and rightfully so, since the other three home games for UCF have been Nevada, Norfolk State, and Presbyterian, all wins. So the Knights are 3-0 in their new facility.

It's the first season for UCF in that new arena. Tonight is the first televised game ever from the new building. It's the first time since 1997 when Auburn came calling for the Golden Knights to host an SEC team in men's basketball.

UCF is 0-24 all-time vs. the SEC in men's hoops. Ole Miss and Central Florida have never played.

So I'll be honest. I'm a little concerned about the outcome of this one. But here are some reasons that should ease my mind a bit.

AK. The man knows the right buttons to push. If there's a coach in men's hoops who I feel comfortable with winning road games, it's Andy Kennedy.

So you might say, well his team won only a few games outside Tad Smith all last season – at Auburn and at South Alabama, two at the UConn tourney, one in Atlanta vs. LSU in the SEC tourney. I'd say you're right. But this is not last year's team. It's better.

But in early December, it always goes back to this: Is a team ready for games like a road trip to UCF or a trip to Jackson to face a solid and battle-tested program like Winthrop, or to San Juan for three games against the likes of Clemson and DePaul and LaSalle.

So we await tonight's tipoff with some wonder at just how this thing will unfold.

But I go back to another reason that we should feel a bit better as to the task at hand. It's what AK said before the season, basically that he hoped talent would overcome inexperience, and that he believed it would.

So far that's been the case. At home. Now we'll find out how things go on the road. With some still inexperienced players. Talented yes, but still inexperienced.

UCF is 4-3 and Jermaine Taylor, a 6-4 guard, is the leader of the Golden Knights. He's averaging 17.4 points per game. His team is scoring 71 points a game and allowing 65.7.

New Mexico was allowing 54 points a game coming to Oxford last weekend. Ole Miss scored 85 in its eight-point win.

The Lobos' leader was J.R. Giddens, and the Rebels handled him quite well, limiting the former McDonald's High School All-American to nine points and six rebounds.

It's a young season, but outcomes in December count for or against just like they do in February or early March.

A win and the Rebels are 7-0 and getting more votes and gearing up for a game Thursday night in Jackson against Winthrop. A loss and at 6-1 the Rebels will have gone through a tremendous learning experience, grown up some, but not gotten what they went to Orlando for.

At 6 Central, they'll tip it off and we'll see. It's time for these young Rebs to test their wings and see how they fly somewhere besides Oxford.


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