Some heads beginning to turn toward UM hoops

The Rebels' 7-0 start has gotten them some attention nationally. Not a lot, but it's a start. This week they received ten votes in the AP (media) poll; one in the ESPN (coaches) poll.

With only the Winthrop game between now and the next poll, the Rebels won't likely get in at 8-0. The trip to Puerto Rico for three games (Dec. 20-22) will go a long way toward a ranking. DePaul, LaSalle, and Clemson are the foes, and a win over the ACC's Tigers, currently 8-0 and ranked 15th, would draw a lot of looks and raised eyebrows. And some more votes, too.

But polls aren't that important. Fun, but not that important. Beating Winthrop's all that matters at the present time.

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Some folks are bound to be casting a glance or two down to Oxford from up in Cincinnati at what Andy Kennedy's doing with the Ole Miss program.

Mick Cronin, one of the three candidates along with Kennedy and John Pelphrey for the Ole Miss job a couple of years ago, struggled to an 11-19 record last season at Cincy, and the Bearcats are off to a 4-4 start this season.

Their first loss of the season was to Belmont at home. That turned out to be no fluke as Belmont went to Alabama and beat the Crimson Tide as well.

The Bearcats' last two games were road losses at UAB, Kennedy's alma mater, by 19 points, and by 10 at Illinois State. Things don't get easier as Cincinnati plays at crosstown rival Xavier, ranked 17th in the national polls, next, then hosts second-ranked Memphis, before traveling to N.C. State, where Kennedy headed right out of high school before transferring to UAB.

With a 28-13 record at Ole Miss including a 7-0 start to this season, there have to be more than a few affiliated with the Bearcats that are keeping up with the program down here. But they aren't likely surprised. They saw what Kennedy did in his interim season as head coach at UC.

The Rebels, meanwhile, are getting ready for that tough home away from home game against Winthrop in Jackson. The Eagles are 5-3 and have been to the NCAA Tournament for three straight seasons. Last year they beat Mississippi State 74-63 in Starkville. They not only won't be intimidated coming to Jackson, they likely believe they can win.

It's the first time Ole Miss has played a men's basketball game at the Mississippi Coliseum at the fairgrounds in Jackson since 1989-90 when the Rebels fell to Louisiana-Lafayette, then still known as Southwestern Louisiana. Now 18 seasons later, the Rebels make their hoops return to the capital city.

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Basketball games normally have scoring runs by both teams. One of the keys to Ole Miss' start has been the ability to withstand the other teams' runs.

No better example of that than Saturday night when a 62-49 Ole Miss lead at Central Florida was whittled down to a razor-thin 62-61 UM advantage.

But a veteran frontcourt, in this instance led by Kenny Williams, and a freshman point guard in Chris Warren, who is growing up every day, along with their teammates continued to play and didn't get rattled. And the Rebels got a key nine-point win on the road.

Last year's team might not have been able to pull it off after losing that type lead. Case in point, the Rebels were up big at Saint Louis last December and couldn't hold off the Billikens in a disappointing non-conference loss, one that might have kept them out of the NCAA Tournament. They probably needed one more SEC win to make it as well, but that loss in Saint Louis was a killer to their cause.

If this year's team played at Saint Louis and had that same situation? I think Ole Miss wins.

The rest of December now gets very interesting. After Winthrop and the three games in San Juan, it's the Southern Mississippi game at Southaven and the end of the pre-conference games vs. Alabama A&M in Oxford on Jan. 2.

But that's not the complete end of non-conference games for this team. When it was confirmed that UNO's Lakefront Arena still wasn't going to be ready for games this season, the Ole Miss-New Orleans contest was delayed until next season. The Rebels replaced the Privateers with Presbyterian College, which comes to Oxford on Monday, Feb. 11.


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