What's going on?

Theories of why the Ole Miss men's basketball team has taken on a Jekyll and Hyde look of late abound, but what's really going on? Here are a few thoughts.

After Ole Miss lost to LSU in humiliating fashion in Baton Rouge Saturday, Rebel Coach Andy Kennedy said, "I don't know who those guys are."

He was talking about his own team, the guys he has been with since October at least three or four hours a day.

AK's observation was pretty astute because the Rebels had just produced a loud thud against LSU - losing 69-49 - and did not resemble the team that defeated SEC West-leading Mississippi State just three days prior.

In fact, they weren't a shell of the fired up, enthusiastic, diving-on-the-floor, effective, inspired and intense Rebels on display against the Bulldogs.

If anything, they were the polar opposite - flat, despondent, fragile, non-confrontational. Yuck.

After Wednesday's triumph over the Bullies, one would have expected more, much more. One would have thought they had regained some confidence and gotten some needed fuel in their tanks after that boost.

One would be wrong.

As AK said, it was hard to tell who those guys were. Certainly, they were not the Rebels who jumped out to a 13-0 start, defeated Clemson, won a tournament in Puerto Rico and had played now number one Tennessee to the final shot in Knoxville.

That Rebel team, it seems, is only showing up sporadically now.

Kennedy said postgame he was "stunned" at the Rebs' inability to score and how his guys played on their heels. He also said his crew got what they deserved for playing that way. Can't argue with that assessment.

That explains the "how" in the equation, but what about the "why?"

Why is this team that showed so much promise earlier in the year playing on a level where their coach doesn't even recognize them?

We can only guess, and it may not even be an educated guess. . . but that is sometimes what we are reduced to when something this baffling and puzzling pops up.

I have a theory, and it is nothing more than that. Take it or leave it.

The Rebs, I believe, have been figured out and what has been discovered is they are not as good as they showed in the early going.

Even if you believe the SEC is "down" in basketball this year, which is kind of funny since we have the number one team in the nation right now and will probably have five or six teams in the NCAA Tournament, this conference is still loaded with athletes.

Our team is not blessed with a lot of pure athletes. From a speed standpoint, we are constantly getting beaten to spots and outquicked. From a leaping standpoint, SEC teams are jumping over us on a regular basis.

Opposing teams - who have high-priced coaches too - have figured out they can derail us a bit when we are on offense if they drop off Eniel Polynice, who is having problems scoring from the outside, put some extra "attention" on senior C Dwayne Curtis and try to match a bigger body against PG Chris Warren.

Opposing teams have decided, rightfully so, the rest of our guys may score some against that strategy, but not enough to beat them. The Rebels are not blessed with a lot of pure shooters. We are streaky on good nights, below average on the others.

Defensively, the Rebs get broken down on dribble penetration a lot, it seems, especially when they hang their heads a bit like they did against LSU and don't put in the effort they did against MSU.

Penetration then breaks down everything else, creating, essentailly, a mismatch in numbers and giving the slashers options to take it all the way to the tin, dish underneath or kick it back out to an open shooter. Penetrating creates, in essence, a 2-on-1 or 3-on-2 or 4-on-3 situation and any well-schooled team can score a large percentage of the time in those situations.

It's fundamental basketball and without our best effort every time out, we get burned.

But it's not all about athleticism, as the Rebels showed in several games this year. UT is certainly more athletic than our club is, but we played them as strongly as Memphis did. We also beat a very athletic MSU team and Clemson group.

No, some of this centers around poise, confidence and intensity.

After losing two or three games, it appeared the Rebels did not keep those ingredients in high enough measure to succeed as often as before.

As we stated last week, they seem to have lost their "mojo" in conference play for the most part.

Early in the year, they did not get rattled when they got behind. In fact, they got more focused. Early in the year, they kept their poise in tight games and found ways to win. Recently, they've shown little poise and have found ways to pack it in when they faced some adversity.

I know this staff and team personally. I know they have pride in what they are doing, individually and collectively.

I know they did not want to start playing this way after such a tremendous start.

But I also have been around collegiate athletics long enough to recognize when a team loses momentum and the line between a confident, poised team and an unsure, rattled team is very, very thin. Right now, the Rebs are the latter, unfortunately.

Having said that, here's the good news.

The Rebels still have ample time and opportunity to right this ship, even though it won't be easy with the next outing being at Kentucky.

We are also discussing a team, let us not forget, that has 18 wins, so it's not like it is foreign to them to get a win streak going.

But to do those things, they will have to purge themselves of the past few weeks and rededicate themselves to finding the chemistry, want-to and magic they had earlier in the year. The bottom line is there for all to see - with their limitations, they have to play inspired, effective hoops to survive.

It's getting to now-or-never time if their hopes include postseason play.

And it's certainly not going to happen if our coach does not recognize what they have become.

If going further than the SEC Tournament is their dream, they all have to find themselves right now.

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