By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
People want to know about Andy Kennedy and whether he’ll be the basketball coach at Ole Miss next year.
The man who holds that answer is Ross Bjork, the new athletics director, who gave Kennedy a one-year extension last year when Bjork was just weeks on the job. The Rebels had just come very close to making the NCAA tournament but didn’t. Bjork could have given Kennedy a raise but didn’t. He could have extended Kennedy’s contract more than just one year but didn’t.
After the Rebels lost 63-62 at South Carolina on Feb. 20, Bjork talked about the excitement of sellout crowds at Tad Smith Coliseum and of evaluating Kennedy at the end of the season, which still has two games and the SEC tournament remaining.
It’s unclear what remains beyond the SEC tournament. Playing in the NIT for what would be a sixth time in seven years under Kennedy is not a slam dunk. Bjork has said he would rely heavily on the in-put of the players as to whether the school would accept an NIT invitation.
That’s the immediate future. If you’re trying to determine how Bjork will handle Kennedy’s future, consider Bjork’s time as AD at Western Kentucky.
Just last year Bjork fired Western coach Ken McDonald 16 games into the season. McDonald was off to a 5-11 start. Assistant coach Ray Harper was appointed interim coach. Bjork said at the time that the Western program needed a “new voice” and someone to help restore “respect” to the program. Declining attendance was a factor in the decision.
Harper led a turnaround that ended in the NCAA tournament last year. This year the Hilltoppers are 16-15, 10-10 in the Sun Belt.
Bjork also terminated Western’s women’s coach early last March in one of his last big personnel moves before taking the Ole Miss job.
With that decision Bjork parted ways with a woman who had a 21-year history with the school as a player, assistant coach and head coach but had just finished the season with a 9-21 record.
Again, attendance was cited as a factor.
That’s significant, because it speaks to Bjork’s awareness of fan’ support for his programs. Ole Miss fans are not unlike many others. When the Rebels win, they turn out. It will be interesting to see how fans support this team Tuesday night against Alabama, the last regular season home game.
Bjork made two tough decisions on head coaches in his final basketball season at Western Kentucky. Circumstances were different yet similar each time.
As far as the game yesterday, Kennedy called it “inexcusable” and said he had no explanation. That’s correct both times.
How does a senior-dominated frontcourt get schooled by a freshman and a first-year junior college transfer who prior to Saturday could only assist their team to a 3-13 SEC record?
Ole Miss let Gavin Ware catch the ball too close to the rim, and when he did, the help defense either wasn’t there or was lacking.
In other news, yet another big guy with perimeter skills abused the Rebels as Colin Borchert did what Kentucky’s Kyle Wiltjer and Florida’s Erik Murphy did, and that’s step outside and hit 3s. When he was challenged he put the ball on the floor and scored, and the help defense wasn’t there.
The Rebels were a little better defensively in the post in the second half, but the damage had been done. The law of averages said MSU would hit a couple of 3-pointers, and it did. Things started building. A crowd of less than 6,000 began to sound much louder.
One thing that didn’t change was State’s hustle on defense. Youngsters, take note of that. You don’t have to be the most talented player on the floor to play defense. Defense is most often about effort and energy.
MSU had it Saturday. Ole Miss didn’t, and the Rebels will finish the season once again coming close to the NCAA tournament but not getting in.