Ole Miss hosts UMass in The Pavilion tonight
It is still football season in Oxford. In fact, Hugh Freeze and the football program got a shot in the arm this weekend when true freshman Shea Patterson and the Landshark defense rallied to beat Texas A&M in the second half. However, Andy Kennedy and the men’s basketball program earned a win over the weekend, as well. The Rebel Walk’s Courtney Smith recapped that here.
Tonight the Rebels look to add a second straight win as they host UMass at 6 p.m.
You may recall the two teams faced in Oxford last December for the first time in either program’s history, and the Rebels won that matchup 74-64. After finishing 14-18 in 2015-16, the Minutemen are also off to a 1-0 start this season as they defeated UMass-Lowell on Friday night. Sebastian Saiz tallied his fifth career double-double against UMass last season and will need to provide a similar spark tonight if the Rebels want to help Kennedy record his 214th career victory – which would put him in a tie for 20th all-time among winningest SEC coaches.
Rebels look for strong game from Saiz
Speaking of Saiz, the man Kennedy has tabbed again and again as the unquestioned alpha of this team, he will need to be better tonight for Ole Miss to move to 53-9 in November during the AK era.
Saiz played only 17 minutes in the win over UT-Martin due to foul trouble and picked up his fifth foul with just under six minutes to go in the contest. Obviously Ole Miss needs him to be effective, and to do so he has to stay on the floor.
Saiz’s three rebounds could have been devastating for the Rebels, but instead they were able to claim the rebounding battle due to 13 boards from newcomer Justas Furmanavicius and eight from Marcanvis Hymon.
It was an impressive debut for Furmanavicius, especially when you add in his four steals and two blocks. He brought 31 minutes worth of energy and will need to do so all year long. Additionally, Hymon added four blocks to lead the team in that category. He, too, will be counted on heavily this season as he is the only big besides Saiz that owns experience at this level.
Ole Miss backcourt impressive in win over UT-Martin
The backcourt was impressive, especially from a scoring standpoint. The four main contributors – Cullen Neal, Deandre Burnett, Rasheed Brooks and Terence Davis – all reached double figures. However, those four were also responsible for 15 of the team’s 27 turnovers, which was a high in that area during Kennedy’s 10-plus seasons at Ole Miss. That could simply be a product of the newness. Only Brooks and Davis had spent any time on the court together in meaningful action, so that area is sure to improve; although, the press and 2-3 zone defenses from the Skyhawks did seems to give the Rebels trouble. Three-point shooting was an area in which the Rebels impressed in their exhibition victory over Morehouse, with 12 treys, but they shot 7-19 against the Skyhawks.
Rebels’ have tremendous upside potential this season
There are plenty of positives to build off of from the season-opening victory, but also plenty of areas to improve. That is to be expected with the talent Kennedy added this offseason, but that also leads to the other side of the coin. The 27 turnovers are eye-opening, but with so many new faces this season there are bound to be some growing pains. Brooks is the only contributor that returns to the backcourt. To pair him with Davis, who played sparingly as a freshman a season go, and two newcomers is a big ask.
Burnett was impressive with 23 points, which is just the kind of offensive output the Rebels need from him, but he will have to grow in other areas, Kennedy said as much following the game Friday. Neal did roll out a 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, but his 2-8 shooting display, including 1-5 from three-point range, will have to come along, as well.
All in all, this is likely the most athletic group Kennedy has put together in his tenure at Ole Miss, but they have to put things together. That includes being consistent with their shooting, gelling as a unit with their passing and staying out of foul trouble.
As thin as the Rebels are in the front court, especially after Nate Morris’s indefinite suspension, they have to have Saiz and Hymon stay out of foul trouble. Sure, the Rebels are going to get steals, but they are also going to get fouled, so they have to do better at the line than Furmanavicius’s 3-9 and Hymon’s 0-5 performance from the other night. They also have to be more crisp and in-sync with their passing.
It has only been one game, so look for Kennedy to cultivate his team more in each of those areas, and that starts tonight as the UMass Minutemen roll into The Pavilion for Space Jam night. Though they aren’t quite the Monstars, they are a test and a chance for the Rebels to get better.
Ole Miss and UMass tip off tonight at 6:00 p.m. (CT) in The Pavilion. The game will be televised on the SEC Network. Live Audio is available at OleMissSports.com
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics)