ATLANTA – As Ole Miss begins its SEC tournament title defense tonight, some things feel the same, some things don’t.
A year ago, for an Ole Miss team that had gone 12-6 in the SEC regular season, there was debate over just how much the Rebels needed to accomplish in the conference tournament to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002.
Ole Miss went on to win three games in three days, earn the school’s second SEC tournament championship, and end the debate.
“We’re not the team we were last year,” Ole Miss guard Jarvis Summers said Wednesday as the team prepared to face Mississippi State.
He’s not the player he was last year, either. Instead, he’s noticeably improved as a scorer.
Summers went on to point to a number of Ole Miss players – himself, Marshall Henderson, Anthony Jones – as experienced players who could help the Rebels repeat last year’s Nashville experience if they are at peak performance.
“Obviously anything’s possible, but this team is vastly different from last year’s team in a number of regards,” Kennedy said. “I’m still thinking about who to start on our frontcourt. That’s never a very good sign when you’re embarking on your conference tournament, but it’s just who we are.”
What the Rebels have been is a guard-oriented unit that has relied heavily on the rebuilt Summers and on the shooting of Henderson.
Not lost on Henderson the fact that he has shot at least 40 percent from 3-point range in a single game only once in the last month.
His response has been to get in the gym as much as possible and shoot, shoot and shoot.
“I’ve put up 400 to 500 a day … makes, I’m not counting the misses. I’m just trying to get it to where the ball’s going right on in,” Henderson said.
Minus their experienced bigs from a year ago, the Rebels (18-13) finished the SEC regular season 11th in rebound margin at minus-2.6 per game.
Kennedy has often spoken out against the inefficient field goal percentage of his frontcourt players who have struggled with layups and follow-ups.
Through it all the Rebels came up short in one-possession games against Alabama and Georgia and had more than ample opportunities in four-point losses at Mississippi State and at home against then-No. 2 Florida.
Wins in a few more of those games could have created a different feel right now.
Kennedy says what the Rebels get done in their title defense will depend on the production of a certain quartet: Anthony Perez, LaDarius White, Derrick Millinghaus and Martavious Newby.
“Of those four, we need two of them to bring their ‘A’ game. If all four bring their A game we could play till Sunday, but we need two of those four to really be productive for us. If we get that, and we can at least hold our own up front, this team has shown capable.”