One is they're undefeated after five games. The other is head coach Larry Eustachy has put together a group that can play the game.
"They're talented," said the fourth-year head coach of the Rebels. "They're as long and as talented a team as I can remember Larry having in his tenure at Southern Miss. They have a number of different people that can hurt you in a lot of different ways. They're much more athletic. They're much more versatile. I think this early in the season he's still trying to find the eight or nine, maybe ten guys that are going to get the majority of the playing time. He's playing a lot of guys like we are."
The Golden Eagles' schedule has been relatively soft, or so it appears. Three wins are over NAIA teams (Spring Hill, Loyola New Orleans, and William Carey) all at home, and two are over Division I teams (Louisiana-Lafayette, Montana State) both on the road.
USM is a mystery team this time around, and last year they were more than the Rebels could handle, taking a 78-59 win in Biloxi back home to Hattiesburg.
"The only guy that has the same role for them is (junior guard) R.L. Horton," Kennedy said. "And he continues to be a consistent performer. They've got a new guard in transfer Angelo Johnson (a sophomore from Southern California), and their front court is completely changed based on new players."
Three Golden Eagles average in double figure points, led by Maurice Bolden's 16.4 points per game. Bolden has gotten to the free-throw line 39 times in five games and is shooting 84.6 percent from there. Junior forward Gary Flowers adds 13.4 points per contest, and Horton contributes 11.0.
USM is averaging 76.4 points per game and allowing 62.0 ppg, while out-rebounding opponents 40.6 to 26.6, an average margin of +14.0.
The Rebels (6-1 on the season) and Golden Eagles will be meeting for the 22nd time in the history of the series, with Ole Miss holding a 16-5 overall advantage and 7-0 lead in games played in Oxford. Two years ago, the No. 22-ranked Rebels beat the Golden Eagles 78-58 in Southaven. The in-state rivals last met in Oxford when Ole Miss won a 113-107 double-overtime decision on Dec. 19, 1995.
Sophomore Terrance Henry, playing as well as anybody on the Rebel team, said today's contest is a big one for this ballclub.
"We've got to make a statement," said Henry, who missed the Rebels' first two games with a hand injury but has played in every game since and hasn't missed a shot in 10 attempts. "They're going to come in here thinking they're going to do what they did last year, so we've got to make a statement."
Last season when the Rebels and USM played, Ole Miss was without three players who were injured. Chris Warren, Eniel Polynice, and Trevor Gaskins all missed out on the late December game.
Sophomore Murphy Holloway said hopefully this time around things will be different.
"It's very important," Holloway said of today's contest. "Last year we were still trying to find our way. We have everybody back this time, so we'll see."
The venue should help. Winning at home has been a trademark of Kennedy's squads since he took the reins in 2006-07. Ole Miss is 47-7 (.870 win pct.) in games played at Tad Smith Coliseum during his tenure, including a 3-0 mark this year. An 80-78 loss to West Virginia on Dec. 3 last year snapped a 25-game home win streak over non-conference opponents.
Ole Miss has won 178 of its last 217 games (.820 win pct.) in Oxford dating back to the 1995-96 campaign. The Rebels have an all-time record of 411-186 (.688 win pct.) at Tad Smith Coliseum, which opened in 1965-66.
Ole Miss is offering FREE student tickets and reducing all remaining tickets to $5 for Saturday's "Showdown in O-Town" against Southern Miss. All parking lots surrounding the coliseum will be open to fans, free of charge. The first 200 Ole Miss students in attendance will receive FREE T-shirts, while students also have a chance to win one of 25 season ticket packages that will be given away during the game.
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