By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy is a self-professed basketball junkie, but even Kennedy was stumped when asked to talk about his Pac-10 opponent in Wednesday’s first-round NIT game.
“We just don’t cross paths very often,” he said. “I know less about the Pac-10 than the other people we play more often.”
Indeed, time zones being what they are, Kennedy said he had not seen Cal very much aside from its name popping up on score lines across the bottom of the TV screen.
That changed Sunday night when the NIT matched Ole Miss with the Golden Bears and sent the Rebels on the road for the first round.
Ole Miss has not played a team from California since 2002 when UCLA eliminated the Rebels from the NCAA tournament. Ole Miss has not played in California since a tournament in San Diego in 1986.
Kennedy and has staff quickly began the scouting process, while also gathering players together. With school out for spring break, some players did not return to Oxford following the Rebels’ 75-66 loss to Kentucky in the SEC tournament quarterfinals on Friday.
Among those scrambling back to Oxford was senior guard Chris Warren who needs two points in Berkeley, Calif., in the 8 p.m. ESPN2 game to reach 2,000 points for his Ole Miss career.
Warren wrote on his Twitter page early Monday that the Orlando airport was crowded and he hoped he wouldn’t be delayed. He was not.
Players assembled, and the team departed by commercial flight for Cal on Monday evening.
Kennedy’s research showed him a team with a strength-of-schedule rating in the top 25, one with talent in the post and on the perimeter, one given to swings of consistency and one where depth could be an issue.
“They work from a seven-man rotation, but those are seven quality players,” Kennedy said.
Cal is coached by Mike Montgomery, the long-time Stanford coach, who had the Cardinal in the Final Four in 1998. He took over at Cal after two years of broadcast work and had the Golden Bears in the NCAA tournament’s second round last year. He has may be short on depth but isn’t short on first-tier talent with this year’s 17-13 team.
Allen Crabbe, a 6-foot-4 guard out of Los Angeles, was named the Pac-10’s freshman of the year after averaging 16.4 points in league games.
Junior guard Jorge Gutierrez was first-team All-Pac-10, and 6-8 forward Harper Kamp, also a junior, was second team.
Gutierrez and Kamp both average 14.3 points a game, and center Markhuri Sanders-Frison posted seven double-doubles this season.
Cal’s schedule rating was boosted with games against Kansas, San Diego State, Notre Dame, Temple and Boston College.
“They’re very solid. They have good skill and good athleticism, and they’re led by one of the most respected coaches in all the country,” Kennedy said.
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.