Ole Miss (9-5) and Florida (13-2) tip off the Southeastern Conference season, and it's truly a mystery at this point how the Rebels will handle things.
They've been through in 14 games and a couple of months more than most teams should have to go through in a season or two. But they fight on with who they have left, and before even a single tipoff in league play, they try to keep the faith.
It's a multi-faceted situation they face. Inexperience. Lack of depth now when they were once deep. Youth. Inside play that hasn't come around as hoped.
It can be a bit overwhelming for a team that doesn't have nearly all its weapons, and some of the ones that are available were in high school eight months ago.
"We know with Chris (Warren) out, some of us have to step up bigtime and score," said talented true freshman guard Terrico White, who will play point guard at times from now on. "We have to score more points."
The Rebels only scored 53 in their last outing. But that was plenty with the competition being Nicholls State in a 53-41 win. It was their defensive play that Coach Andy Kennedy was pleased with and he knows that with limited offensive weapons now, the Rebels will have to be better defenders for 40 minutes. And they'll need to continue to improve in the rebounding department, especially offensively.
"We zoned a lot against Nicholls, which meant we gave up some offensive rebounds," he said. "But defensively I think we did a tremendous job, when you think of limiting anybody to 41 points. The zone was good for us as they shot a very low percentage. Obviously Florida presents a different set of challenges."
Will Bogan, another true freshman point guard, has been running the team since Warren's season-ending injury against Louisville. But it's apparent White is going to be called on to help Bogan out.
"It's going well," Terrico said of playing more point after being more of a two-shooting guard earlyon.
But it's not all foreign to Terrico. He's got some experience there.
"In high school I ran the point," said the Craigmont High (Memphis, Tenn.) product. "So I'm trying to get more comfortable again."
Terrico says he believes he can help the team's scoring production and in other areas.
"Penetrating and also rebounding," he said. "Loose balls and shooting. Things like that."
Terrico said it has been an adjustment going from all they learned and worked on in preseason to what they are trying to get done now.
"With Chris running the point, we had a more uptempo style," he said. "With Will running the point, we have slowed it down and run a more halfcourt offense."
Kennedy said the environment thing will have to take care of itself. Preparing first-year players for a situation like today is all about experiencing it for themselves.
"Only two guys have really played roles in this type of game, that being David Huertas and Zach Graham," he said. "So we can't ask these guys to understand what they are about to experience, because they don't have any basis for comparison."
Being a realist and an optimist, Kennedy sees an upside to it all, which obviously he must.
"With as many young guys and as many inexperienced guys, your growth potential is tremendous," he said, his team down to nine scholarship players, none of them seniors. "Our hope is we continue to get better and better as they gain more experience and get more comfortable in their roles."
Kennedy said with three key players out for the season, finding who they are and what they can do continues to be a daily challenge for this team.
"Before the injuries, the mindset was 'Here is who we are and we're going to get really good at who we are and make people make adjustments to us.' That's obviously changed, so we have to make some adjustments game in and game out," Kennedy said, noting rebounding and transition defense are two of the Gators' strengths. "Florida obviously brings some huge challenges that we haven't faced to this point."
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Broadcast coverage for today's game:
Live TV: FSN South (Rich Waltz, play-by-play; Daymeon Fishback, analyst)
Live Radio: Ole Miss Radio Network (David Kellum, play-by-play; Keith Carter, analyst). Listen Online through RebelVision
Live Video: ESPN360.com (Free on-campus viewing at all U.S. colleges and universities)
XM Radio: Channel 199
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