By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Ole Miss basketball season gets under way tonight in a doubleheader featuring the men’s and women’s teams at Tad Smith Coliseum.
Under the direction of Brett Frank, named acting head coach in the wake staff upheaval less than a month ago, the Ole Miss women take on Southeastern Louisiana at 5:30 p.m.
The men follow with a game against Mississippi Valley State.
Andy Kennedy begins his seventh season as head coach of the Rebels with a blend of experience – four starters return – and talented newcomers led by shooting guard Marshall Henderson, last year’s national junior college player of the year.
Henderson heated up in the second half Monday to score 19 points in the Rebels’ 77-62 exhibition win over Division II Montevallo. He was 5-for-12 from 3-point range, most of that coming in the second half.
The Rebels open the season with a flurry of five games in two weeks.
“We have to make sure our bases are covered so we’re not out of position for the things we may see,” Kennedy said.
He also wants to make sure his team is challenged, and that’s why Kennedy likes playing non-conference games against Mississippi schools.
Valley won the SWAC last season and nearly won an NCAA tournament game, losing a second-half lead against Western Kentucky, just weeks before WKU athletics director Ross Bjork would be named to the same position at Ole Miss.
The Delta Devils lost their coach, Sean Woods, and new coach Chico Potts must replace 98.9 percent of last year’s scoring.
Ole Miss is 35-0 against SWAC opponents, including an 80-56 win against Valley last year.
“When you get into these buy games a lot of people say, ‘Why do you play in-state teams? You give them more motivation.’ Well, that’s the point,” Kennedy said. “I wouldn’t mind the money staying in state, and I want to play guys I like and that are going to have an extra drive to play.”
The Ole Miss women return three starters from a team that finished 12-18 overall, 2-14 in the SEC.
New coach Adrian Wiggins and two assistants were fired abruptly amid charges of improper recruiting contact and academic misconduct in late October. Frank was named acting coach shortly after.
Junior point guard Valencia McFarland is aiming to become just the third Ole Miss women’s player to record at least 1,000 points, 500 assists and 250 steals in a career. She would join former coach Carol Ross and former Hamilton star Glenda Springfield.
Ole Miss leads the series with SE Louisiana, 14-0.