UCF before SEC

It's almost Southeastern Conference basketball time, but there's one more non-conference game to take care of first. Ole Miss hosts Central Florida Tuesday at 7 p.m.

The Rebels, ranked 14th by AP this week and 16th in the coaches poll, then host Mississippi State at 12:30 p.m. Saturday to open league play. Central Florida is 8-5 on the season coming to Oxford.

"They're a good basketball team," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said of the 8-5 Golden Knights. "We've played them the last two years (UM won both). We need to come out with the right approach."

In some non-SEC games so far this season, that hasn't been the case for the Rebels. But against lesser competition, they've always rallied to win.

Kennedy said his 11-2 squad has for the most part taken care of business this preseason, given the fact that both losses were to teams ranked in the top six at the time Ole Miss played them.

"What you want to do is win the games quote-unquote you're supposed to win," he said. "I think we have done a relatively good job of doing that to this point. We lost in Puerto Rico to Villanova and then at West Virginia, two of the better teams in the country."

Of course Kennedy wanted to be 13-0 at this point. But with so many new faces, including the returning players from injury, he said he'd been anxious to see how things would indeed fit.

"We were bringing back the guys who missed last season due to injury and were trying to integrate them back into a rotation, so we've been trying to find out just what our identity is as a team," he said. "And we're still working toward that."

So far the Rebels haven't had to deal with those more serious type injuries which prevented three players from competing in SEC games last season. There are some question marks for Tuesday night, however.

"We had a couple of situations yesterday," Kennedy said. "Will Bogan may have broken his hand. We're still trying to get a final verdict on the extent of his injury. Trevor Gaskins had a collision and had a little bit of a head situation that we're monitoring today. We'll find out his status as well."

Rebounding was a question mark for the Rebels coming into the season. Kennedy said he believes his team continues to improve in that regard.

"It's one of the areas that is of most concern," he said. "We knew coming into the season it was going to be an issue for us. We've got to do a much better job on the defensive boards, especially eliminating second-chance opportunities. We're inexperienced a bit up front, and we're undersized at certain positions. We have to team rebound the ball. We're big on our wings. We're asking those guys – Eniel Polynice, Zach Graham, Terrico White – to really go in and do their share on the glass. It's something we've got to continue to work on."

For now, everything is focused on Central Florida. It will give the Rebels one last chance to improve as SEC play is up ahead this weekend.

"We're like most teams in the league. We have one more non-league opponent," Kennedy said. "We're still a work in progress, to say the least. I'm pleased to this point compared to where we were a year ago. We are relatively healthy and we are improving."


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