Ole Miss expects huge challenge in guarding LSU’s Ben Simmons
Ole Miss Men’s Basketball head coach Andy Kennedy hasn’t seen much of LSU this season, but one thing he knows for sure: freshman Ben Simmons is the real deal.
Simmons, a native of Melbourne, Australia, was one of the most talked about prospects coming out of high school and has lived up to the stout expectations that were placed in front of him prior to his arrival in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
The 6-foot-9, 225-pound power forward out of Montverde Academy has been a force for the Tigers this season, leading the team in points (20.6), rebounds (13.1), assists (5.1), and steals (1.9). In Southeastern Conference play, Simmons has averaged 26 points and 13.7 rebounds while shooting 62.9 percent (22 for 35) from the field.
“I’m really impressed, like everyone else in the country, with how Ben Simmons has been able to come in and dominate college basketball,” Kennedy said. “I think now that they have their full complement of players with Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor joining the team in the last few weeks, I think they are a very good basketball team.”
Tigers to watch
Outside of Simmons, LSU has received production from Hornsby–second on the team in scoring (15.5 points per game)–and junior guard Tim Quarterman, whose averaging 11.5 points per contest. Hornsby missed the team’s first seven games of the season due to an injury and is shooting 41 percent (16 of 39) from 3-point range.
Louisiana native and sophomore forward Craig Victor II, who transferred to the program in January 2015, has made his presence known in seven games, averaging 12.6 points per game.
Victor was only able to practice with the team during the pre-season workouts and became eligible to play after the conclusion of the fall semester and certification of grades. Since Victor joined the team, the Tigers (9-6, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) have won five of their last seven games, which included their biggest win to date, an 85-67 victory over then No. 9 Kentucky.
And despite the 68-62 road loss at Florida, LSU coach Johnny Jones felt the team had a solid week and said things can only go upwards for the program.
“I’m excited about another week in the conference,” Jones said. “We got challenges with Ole Miss, then will play a tough Arkansas team on Saturday. We hope to be able to bounce back from a disappointing loss we had in Gainesville on Saturday.”
Rebels set to face “arguably the best player in college basketball”
Georgia’s sophomore forward Yante Maten gave the Rebels a small sample of what they should expect inside the paint against Simmons on Wednesday night. Against Ole Miss (12-3, 2-1), Maten scored 20 points–while going 7 for 15 from the field–and grabbed nine rebounds in 30 minutes for the Bulldogs, before fouling out at the 3:36 mark of the second half when his team was up 64-63, eventually losing 72-71 off Stefan Moody’s driving lay-up.
But Kennedy feels there’s no comparison between Yante and Simmons.
“Maten is a tremendous player, one of the most improved players in all of college basketball,” Kennedy said about the 6-8, 240-pound stretch forward. “But Ben Simmons is inarguably the best player in college basketball.”
Hoping for a schedule change
As of late, Ole Miss has had to open SEC play at Kentucky; however, with the opening of The Pavilion, Kennedy hopes for a change and would like to instead see the Wildcats come to Oxford. Towards the end of Monday’s SEC Basketball Coaches Media Teleconference, Kennedy asked with laughter, “Can I get an assurance that we won’t be opening at Kentucky next year?”
Craig Pinkerton, the SEC Basketball Director of Communications, responded by saying, “We will see what we can do next year.”
Series History vs. LSU
The Rebels have won seven of the last 10 meetings against the Tigers, but dropped a road game in Baton Rouge 73-63 last year. LSU holds a 78-29 advantage in games in Baton Rouge, but Ole Miss has taken three of the last five meetings at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Kennedy owns an 11-7 record against the Tigers in his career. He is 10-7 with the Rebels and faced LSU once as Cincinnati’s head coach in 2005-06, defeating the Tigers 75-72 at the Las Vegas Holiday Classic.
Date: Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016
Time: 8 p.m. CT
Location: Baton Rouge, La.
Arena: Pete Maravich Assembly Center
(Feature image credit: Joshua McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics)