With three more SEC games under their belt since an 83-61 loss at Kentucky to open league play this Ole Miss team is coming into a little sharper focus.
The Rebels are 12-4 overall, 2-2 in SEC play going into Saturday night’s game, the third in the new Pavilion, against Florida.
It will be the homecoming for former Ole Miss player and long-time assistant coach Mike White, in his first season as Florida coach. More on Mike in a bit.
The Kentucky game ended a streak of seven wins for Ole Miss and also cast some doubt on the Rebels.
Three games later you can spot a few trends, some of them old some of them not.
This is still Stefan Moody’s team. That hasn’t changed and won’t change this season. Whatever success the Rebels have from here on out and most of what they’ve had to this point is directly proportional to how Moody’s game is going.
Ole Miss lost 90-81 at LSU Wednesday but led much of the way and was in position to win late because Moody had his best game of the season. He had a career-high 33 points and was 6-for-11 from 3-point range. That was a season-high in 3-point makes. Moody had hit five 3-pointers against Towson but had hit as many as four just three other times and not since Dec. 15 against Louisiana Tech.
Hopefully for Moody back-to-back sharp-shooting games for Rasheed Brooks is a trend and not an isolated incident.
Brooks has shown spurts before. He was 3-for-4 from 3 in the opener against Northwestern State, 3-for-5 against Towson and 4-for-5 against Tech.
But he had hit only one of his previous 13 3-point attempts before going 7-for-17 over the last two games. Brooks was 3-for-8 against Georgia, his 3-pointer with 44 seconds left setting the table for Moody to win it with 3.8 seconds left. Then Brooks was 4-for-9 from the arc against LSU.
Brooks’ minutes are increasing, and Andy Kennedy is starting to run more action for him. As Kennedy has often said, the Rebels need to take advantage of the open looks others are getting because Moody requires so much attention. Brooks is beginning to do that, and maybe he can keep it up.
The other trend since Kentucky is an Ole Miss team that plays hard.
I missed the Kentucky game traveling back from the Sugar Bowl. Kennedy talked about a team that got in early foul trouble then just looked intimidated in Lexington.
That’s not been the look for Ole Miss in the last three games.
Moving into the Pavilion for the first SEC home game did bring with it some level of concern. Yes, the people in the stands were going to be cheering for Ole Miss. It wasn’t exactly a neutral site game, but the players had no history with the building, with angles, lighting, routines. All of that seems very minor, but sometimes one minor thing can cause a mis-step once or twice, and a possession here or there turned the other way could have turned both the Alabama and Georgia games.
I though Ole Miss showed a lot of toughness in both of those games. The visitors each time went on huge runs to take healthy leads into halftime.
Ole Miss was in fact down double-figures to Georgia with 12 minutes left. A team lacking toughness could have wilted then, but the Rebels kept fighting, got some timely stops where they hadn’t been getting them all game and got some timely buckets on the other end.
Timeliness can make up for poor shooting percentages which is something that has plagued this Ole Miss team.
Toughness can make for a shortage of pure talent, and the Rebels don’t have an abundance of that outside of Moody.
Sometimes even great effort isn’t enough. Knowing who to guard and how to guard didn’t keep LSU from shooting 70.8 percent in the second half.
Moody’s hot hand helped Ole Miss shoot 45.2 percent, it’s best shooting night in an SEC game.
If the Rebels can duplicate that against Florida it would be a big advantage since the Gators are shooting just 41.5 percent as a team, last in the SEC. The Rebels are next to last at 42.8 percent even after their LSU success.
Florida is third in the SEC in field goal defense at 37.9 percent. Ole Miss shot just 36.2 percent against Georgia – which continues to lead the SEC in field goal defense – and managed to win. That’s what timeliness and toughness can do for you.
Timeliness helps you land big coaching jobs too, and that’s what White has done. The Gators were looking for a Billy Donovan replacement after White had put together solid teams at Louisiana Tech.
When that Dec. 15 game was scheduled it was thought it would have been White’s homecoming then.
Earlier this week White seemed genuinely excited about his return. He spoke in glowing terms about his time not only at Ole Miss but in Oxford too. He talked about his children being born in Oxford and the friends he and his wife still have in town.
All that, of course, will be forgotten for a while Saturday night at 7 when two 2-2 SEC teams try to edge in a positive direction in the SEC race.