Last season, the losses of Chris Warren, Eniel Polynice and Trevor Gaskins to season-ending ACL injuries derailed a promising team. The Rebels finished 16-15 overall despite limited numbers and a handful of freshmen relied upon for added minutes.
A year later, Kennedy is facing another injury setback. Freshman Reginald Buckner, easily the team's most imposing post presence, is sidelined due to a sprained ankle suffered in a Thursday night win over Auburn five days prior.
The length of Buckner's absence remains to be seen. Kennedy didn't give a timetable for a possible return following Sunday's 80-73 loss to Arkansas, but said he doesn't expect the the6-foot-8, 223-pounder to play Tuesday night against No. 3 Kentucky in Lexington.
"He's our strongest and most athletic frontcourt player," Kennedy said of Buckner. "Physically, he's the only guy on our roster who realistically has a chance to match up with some of those guys wearing the Big Blue.
"It's going to make us have to rethink some things. We've got to do a better job off the ball. I think it's important that we have more ball pressure. (Sunday) was the first game we played without Reggie's presence at the basket and obviously it was exploited. We're going to have to make some adjustments."
Against the Razorbacks, Ole Miss (16-5, 4-3 SEC) did its best to cope without Buckner. Murphy Holloway had his best game of the season. In the loss, the sophomore from Irma, S.C. managed 19 points and 17 rebounds.
However, Holloway and fellow post players DeAundre Cranston and Terrance Henry were worn down in the second half. Mike Washington had 12 points and eight rebounds in the final 20 minutes Sunday, while Marshawn Powell had 12 points and blocked Holloway twice with the game on the line.
"I think it limits us a lot," Holloway said of life without Buckner. "When we got into foul trouble (against Arkansas), we didn't have another post presence to come off the bench and help."
Now Ole Miss has the unenviable task of tripping to Rupp Arena undermanned.
Kennedy mentioned Tuesday of the team being down to 12 scholarship players. Sophomore guard Will Bogan is dealing with a broken hand. Forward Kevin Cantinol left the team earlier this season. Add in Buckner, and options are tight with one of the nation's hottest teams on deck.
Even more unsettling, the Wildcats tout the SEC's most productive post duo in DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson. Cousins, who leads the league in rebounding with 9.7 per game, ranks second on the team in scoring with 16.2 points. Patterson adds 15.2 points per game and 7.7 rebounds.
"First and foremost, it really is all about positioning," said Kennedy of the Rebels' needed post play Tuesday. "As opposed to being reactionary, we've got to anticipate where we're supposed to be, and not always be trying to play catch-up. Arkansas did a good job of playing angles on us and overpowering us at the basket.
"Kentucky is an outstanding basketball team. We're going to have to be a step ahead of the game in order to have a chance to neutralize any of that inside strength that we can."
Kentucky enters Tuesday's nationally-televised matchup with a 20-1 overall record and 5-1 conference mark to tie for the overall SEC lead with Vanderbilt. Led by John Calipari, the Wildcats were the last unbeaten team in the country before falling to South Carolina a week ago.
UK leads the SEC in points per game, scoring margin, 3-point field goal percentage and rebounds per game. Ole Miss snapped a nine-game losing streak to Kentucky last season, an 85-80 win in Oxford.
"With the letdown we had (Sunday), I'll be anxious to see how they respond," Kennedy said. "We're a little undermanned. Our strongest post presence in Reginald Buckner will not be able to help us with his ankle injury. We're going to have to find a way by committee to hold our own up front."
Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN.
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