By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Andy Kennedy is a self-professed basketball junkie, a numbers guy who enjoys the ins and outs of NCAA bracketology before the brackets start buzzing in March.
Kennedy is also an “opportunity guy” and says the best thing his Ole Miss basketball team can do is take care of each game as it appears on the schedule.
The first of 18 SEC games appears tonight when the Rebels (11-2) open conference play on the road for the 12th time in 15 seasons, this time against Tennessee.
Tipoff at the Vols’ Thompson-Boling Arena is set for 7 p.m.
While a rash of non-conference losses have affected the SEC’s numbers so far, the Rebels have two resume-building opportunities in the first week – tonight’s road game, then a Saturday night home game against newcomer Missouri, ranked No. 10 in The AP Top 25 and sporting a 21 RPI, the SEC’s second-best.
“We’ve got to do what we can control, and that is try to take advantage of our opportunities. We’ve got one Today, we’ve got one Saturday, and that’s where our focus is,” Kennedy said.
Four SEC teams have sub-200 RPIs, a fifth, Vanderbilt is at No. 151.
Kennedy believes those numbers will shift as conference games are played.
They need to for the benefit of all involved.
An Ole Miss team trying to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002 enters SEC play with an RPI of 66, fourth in the league.
The Rebels don’t have any bad losses – Indiana State and Middle Tennessee are both in the top 50 – but they don’t have any marquee wins.
“It’s good for us, because we ain’t in a slump, and we’re going to have that momentum going into the game,” sophomore point guard Jarvis Summers said. “We just have to take it game by game and do what we’ve got to do.”
Ole Miss and Tennessee split two games last year, the Rebels losing in Knoxville, then going on a run that carried them past the Vols in the SEC quarterfinals.
Tennessee post player Jeronne Maymon had 29 points and 28 rebounds in those two games. He was the difference at Thompson-Boling, but the Rebels got more production from their core group in New Orleans.
Maymon was a big part of the Vols’ plans this season but an injury has forced him to redshirt.
The Vols are second in the league in scoring defense (58.8 ppg) but 11th in scoring (64.5 ppg).
The swings in the numbers are too wild to get caught up in the big picture right now, Kennedy says.
“As you collect more data those numbers become more relevant, and I don’t believe they do become relevant, honestly, until you get into mid-February where your collection of data is such that the signs become more clear.”