Ox-like in Oxford

Basketball teams tend to reflect the personality of their coach, and Ole Miss head man Andy Kennedy is as hard-nosed as they come. Just ask that Cincinnati cab driver who charged him with assault in December.

Regardless, Tennessee can expect to encounter a bunch of rugged Rebels Wednesday night in Oxford. Ole Miss is not the SEC's most talented team but it might be the SEC's roughest team. All five starters weigh at least 200 pounds, led by DeAundre Cranston, a 6-9, 251-pound junior. Malcolm White (6-9, 217), Zach Graham (6-6, 225), David Huertas (6-5, 200) and Terrico White (6-5, 211) round out the starting five.

"Ole Miss is a big team, a physical team," UT coach Bruce Pearl said. "That's one of the things where I talk about giving Andy credit. I expect that from Auburn or LSU because they're senior-laden clubs. You wouldn't necessarily expect that from Ole Miss but you would from Andy Kennedy teams. He's gotten these young guys to really buy into being physical."

The Vol coach went on to note that the Rebels crushed Auburn earlier this year and nearly beat LSU last weekend "because they physically dominated those teams."

When he isn't getting into scrapes with cabbies, Kennedy spends much of his time juggling his 2008-09 lineup to accommodate the rash of injuries the Rebels have suffered this season. Even with star point guard Chris Warren and wing Eniel Polynice sidelined, Ole Miss has managed to remain reasonably competitive (13-11 overall, 4-6 SEC) due to Kennedy's strong will and stronger bench.

"He had a 13-man roster," Pearl said, "and they made some great decisions and evaluations in recruiting."

The Vol coach's high regard for Kennedy is understandable. The Ole Miss head man has been a tough challenge for UT in his two years at the Rebel helm. His Rebels hung an 83-69 drubbing on Pearl's Vols at Oxford in 2007, then gave Tennessee fits before falling 85-83 at Knoxville in 2008 on a Tyler Smith basket with 4 seconds left.

"He's a Bob Huggins disciple," Pearl noted. "They play tough. They play physically."

Despite a 16-8 overall record and a 7-3 SEC mark, Tennessee cannot afford to view this game as a walk in the park. It probably will be more like a cab ride in Cincinnati.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories