Second in a series
The Good: The Rebels reached the NCAA tournament for the first time under Andy Kennedy and didn’t just reach it barely. After a devastating loss to on the second day of March, Ole Miss went on to play its best basketball of the season over the next three week’s of the sport’s most important month.
That new-found consistency led to an SEC tournament championship and an upset of No. 5 seed Wisconsin in the NCAA second round in Kansas City.
Kennedy added controversial Marshall Henderson as a late-period signee in 2012 then gave him enough space — too much many would argue — to express his individualism while leading the SEC in scoring at 20.1 points a game.
The SEC tournament win over Florida and the NCAA win over Wisconsin — combined with Henderson’s flamboyance — put Ole Miss basketball in the national spotlight.
Seniors Murphy Holloway and Reggie Buckner were solid performers, and Nick Williams, another senior, was the glue of the team.
Those two and others were forced to log many more minutes this season after season-ending injuries to key frontcourt reserves Demarco Cox and Aaron Jones.
Derrick Millinghaus was another newcomer who provided some big minutes, none bigger than his time against Missouri in the SEC quarterfinals.
Jarvis Summers and LaDarius White provided enough of a supporting cast for Kennedy, whose job had been in question, to come out of the season with a full four-year contract and a half million dollar raise.
The Bad: After a 6-0 start to SEC play the Rebels struggled through February and put their backs against the wall relative to an NCAA at-large bid. After the hot conference start the MSU loss on March 2 was the sixth in 10 games. That span included road losses to Texas A&M and struggling South Carolina, and Kennedy’s job became a topic of conversation.
Henderson’s 3-point shooting was clearly the missing piece on a team that was talented and made an NCAA push the previous season, but his personality generated too much of its own media coverage.
Junior college transfer Jason Carter could have been a big lift, a stretch 4 and another 3-point threat, but he had discipline issues and never played a game.
The Bottom Line: Kennedy needed an NCAA year and came through with an NCAA team. He will be rebuilding the front line this season, and the Rebels won’t likely be picked to finish high in the SEC, but there is talent on the roster and parts and pieces to work with. How Cox and Jones come back from injury will be key.
Most Improved: Derrick Millinghaus. The freshman from New York got off to a late start because of an injury but immediately brought a quicker pace when getting on the floor. Sometimes that pace caused him to play out of control, but he got better in that regard. Millinghaus went on to average 5.3 points, 1.8 assists in 13.9 minutes a game. Every time he was in he had big-play potential, the Rebels probably wouldn’t have won against Missouri in the SEC tournament without him, and that would have relegated them to the NIT again.
MVP: Marshall Henderson. Clearly the missing piece. Love him or hate him you can debate his personality. The Rebels, though, were lacking from the perimeter in 2012, and that cost them an NCAA trip. Henderson had the green light all the time, and at times shot too much. His selection did improve, and his efficiency needs to improve moving forward. He finished at 35 percent from 3-point range, six shots shy of 400 attempts. The 3-point shot is Henderson’s game, but he made basketball plays. Penetrating, dishing to teammates and getting to the foul line. Those parts of his game were overlooked. At the moment Henderson is a team member in good standing. He ended the season talking about his desire to become a team leader. If he becomes a little more efficient with his shot and reigns in the personality just a bit that would be a boost for Ole Miss.