By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
It was with roughly 10 minutes remaining in a game the Rebels were supposed to win that the first loose thread appeared.
Murphy Holloway laid on the floor of the DeSoto Civic Center in obvious pain last Wednesday. Ole Miss trailed just 42-41 at the time, but when its best rebounder was helped off the floor the Rebels unraveled at the finish in a 68-56 loss.
Middle Tennessee is not a bad team. The Blue Raiders have athletes inside and out, and they have a win over UCLA. But they also have an RPI rating of 91, a strength of schedule rank of 277.
It’s what will be considered a bad loss by the NCAA selection committee when those conversations occur later this season.
The Rebels have a chance to counter that loss Friday at Dayton. In winning nine of its first 10 games, Ole Miss did not defeat a ranked opponent but did win on the road twice against teams from power conferences, DePaul from the Big East, Penn State from the Big 10.
Dayton (9-4) has an RPI of 49, a strength of schedule rank of 22. It’s an opportunity for Ole Miss to regain a little swagger as SEC play begins in little more than a week.
However, the absence of Holloway, who is out indefinitely, gives the Rebels a totally different look.
Reggie Buckner is averaging a career-best 7.4 rebounds, still more than two boards a game less than Holloway, whose 9.6 rebounds a game ranks third in the SEC.
No player other than Buckner hits the glass with as much success.
With struggles in some other areas, most notably ball-handling and perimeter scoring, rebounding is something the Rebels have done pretty well thanks to Holloway.
His transfer from South Carolina back to Ole Miss created a sense of excitement around the program, some believing his energy on the glass, particularly on the offensive end, could be the piece of the puzzle that gets the Rebels over the NCAA tournament hump if young talent could make a quick impact.
A roster heavy on athleticism is also heavy on inexperience, and the two most impressive freshmen were both forced to sit with eligibility issues until the completion of the fall semester.
LaDarius White and Jelan Kendrick will become difference-makers. Right now they’re immensely talented newcomers still figuring things out. When they’re in the game, Ole Miss is noticeably more athletic. While you can see the ability, you can also see the youth. Kendrick, the 6-foot-7 transfer from Memphis, may be a little ahead of White in terms of finding his comfort level.
There’s no single player on the bench to replace Holloway’s rebounding. If it is to be, it will be a team effort.
Kendrick’s versatility could come into play here if senior Terrance Henry moves from the small forward spot back down low where he averaged 6.0 rebounds last year.
The talent gives Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy some options, none of them as consistent as a healthy Murphy Holloway.
If the Rebels, however, are going to play meaningful games in March it looks like they’re going to have to rebound as a team and grow up quickly in December and January.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford @journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily about Ole Miss athletics at Djournal.com.