Kennedy prepared during holidays for Rebels’ SEC-opener against No. 8 Kentucky
After the last present was opened on Christmas, Andy Kennedy took a step back from the holiday festivities and worked on a solid game plan for Ole Miss’ Southeastern Conference home opener tonight against No. 8 Kentucky.
Kennedy had a chance to watch the young Wildcats last Wednesday night in their heated in-state rivalry game against then-No. 10 Louisville. The Rebels’ head coach noticed how fast Kentucky ran its offense through its young backcourt of true freshmen Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox. Kennedy also noticed how dominant freshman forward Bam Adebayo can be if he’s given a lot of touches in the post.
The adrenaline will be flowing through not only Kennedy, but each Rebel who will suit up Thursday night (7:00 p.m., ESPN2) when both programs look to start 1-0 in league play. (Ole Miss game notes)
“I know our guys came back excited because Kentucky brings that SEC opener national TV exposure. They are the gold standard. It’s an exciting way to open league play, but obviously very, very difficult because they are so good, again.”
Andy Kennedy on playing Kentucky
Scouting the Wildcats
Speaking of good, just how good is this year’s Kentucky team?
Well, the Wildcats currently lead the SEC in scoring at 93.1 points per game. Kentucky also ranks second in the league in rebounding margin at +5.6, just behind Ole Miss (9-3), and leads the league in rebounding, pulling down 42.7 per game, which is just ahead of the Rebels. As a team, the Wildcats are shooting 48.4 percent, which places them atop the SEC.
A high percentage of Kentucky’s offense, thus far, has gone through Monk, who leads the SEC with an average of 21.4 points per game this season. Monk is one of four Wildcats averaging in double figures this year.
Kennedy is very familiar with Monk’s explosiveness in the open floor, but the Ole Miss head coach doesn’t recall seeing De’Aaron Fox when he was piecing together his 2016 recruiting class. Fox is one of the other four Kentucky players averaging in double figures (16.3 ppg).
“Unless I was recruiting someone on his AAU team, I don’t know what other reason I would have seen him,” Kennedy said. “I never really studied his game until he got to Kentucky, and he just jumps off the screen with his speed in the open floor with the ball.
“If you’re fast on tape, that means you’re going to be doubly fast in person, so De’Aaron Fox’s speed and the way Malik Monk has shot the ball and Bam’s strength inside, they just have a plethora of weapons.”
Andy Kennedy on Kentucky’s speed
In order for Ole Miss to keep pace with the Wildcats (10-2), the Rebels need to limit their turnovers. Ole Miss currently averages 15.1 turnovers per game, which ranks 295th in Division 1 Basketball. This season, Kentucky has been playing stifling defense against its opponents, forcing an average of 17.3 turnovers a game.
Kennedy knows limiting turnovers is critical for his team’s success tonight.
“We have typically had guards dominate the ball and quarterback us and get it to where we want it to go,” Kennedy said. “But, this year our team is built differently, and as a result, we got more guys touching it, and as a result, we are turning it over more. That’s something I’m very conscious of, and I’m trying to remedy.”
Thursday marks just the fifth time in the last 19 seasons Ole Miss has opened conference play at home. It will be the third-straight year the Rebels have opened league play against Kentucky, and also marks the first time since the 1981-82 season Ole Miss has started SEC play before January.
Series history vs. Kentucky
Thursday’s game will be the 118th meeting between Ole Miss and Kentucky. The Wildcats hold a 104-13 lead in the series, but two of Ole Miss’ 13 all-time wins have come in the last 11 meetings. The Rebels are 10-29 all-time versus Kentucky in Oxford, including Ole Miss’ 71-69 upset of the 10th-ranked Wildcats in 2011 when Chris Warren scored 22 points and nailed a 25-footer with 2.9 seconds left for the win.
The bottom line
Kennedy knows what it will take for the Rebels to win their SEC-opener against Kentucky. And, if they are able to do so, it would no doubt be one of the best Christmas presents the head coach receives this year.
“They’ve got a lot of weapons, so we’ve got to battle, we’ve got to do what we do, limit live-ball turnovers, try to battle on the glass and then when you’ve got an opportunity to make a play offensively we’re going to have to make it.”
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics)