PARRISH ALFORD: Ole Miss should be NCAA team next year, should be

By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal

NEW YORK – Andy Kennedy was introduced here Monday at the NIT mutual admiration festival as the coach of Ole Miss, a team that would likely be in the NCAA tournament next year.
On paper, that would appear to be a fair assessment, but here’s where paper gets tricky: It assumes that all players with eligibility remaining will return.
The Ole Miss roster includes only one senior, and DeAundre Cranston was not one of the team’s big producers this season.
The shot-makers, Chris Warren and Terrico White, have scholarship time left. Zach Graham and Murphy Holloway provide a nice supporting cast, themselves capable of big games.
Then there’s talent coming in Nick Williams, a 6-foot4 transfer guard from Indiana, a slasher, plus two highly regarded freshman signees.
Take Warren and White out of that mix, however, and it’s like starting over. There would be new roles for the supporting cast, a greater load for the younger players.
It should be of some concern that Warren does not address his future at Ole Miss. His name has been linked to a possible leap to European pro ball. While he denounces that as rumor on the one hand, he leaves his senior season open to speculation on the other. He certainly doesn’t sound like a veteran All-SEC player eager to make one more push at the NCAA tournament that has eluded him so far.
Warren speaks as one holding cards near his vest and will only say: “I can’t predict the future.”
None of us can, but that doesn’t mean you write it off and choose not to prepare for it.
Warren’s 5-foot-10 frame will not be his bargaining chip in pursuit of an NBA job. But come back one more time and carry a team the way he did this year, get that All-SEC designation again, get into the NCAA tournament – in short, lead – and perhaps things change.
If Europe is to be a spring board to the NBA, it can be that just as well in 2012 if that is still necessary by then.
A season that began with questions as to who was “the man” at Ole Miss ends with no such question at all. “Chis is our engine,” Kennedy told the NIT media crowd Tuesday night.
While White, with his impressive athleticism, was hit and miss, Warren was there almost every night.
When they were on together the Rebels were very, very good. It just didn’t happen enough in a 24-11 season.
White may have played his way back into the NBA consciousness by averaging 21 points in four NIT games.
He will test the waters and make a decision after talking with his family and the coaching staff, he says.
There’s a great deal White can improve on to become more valuable to NBA teams before taking that step. But when an athlete is faced with this decision, which way he will turn is anybody’s guess.
The wild card in the attrition question is Eniel Polynice. When he’s focused and playing with energy – as he was Tuesday against Dayton — he’s an asset, but there wasn’t enough of that late this season.
Polynice lost some ground after his suspension prior to the final regular season game. Graham picked up his game, and when Polynice was back in good standing, Graham had taken his minutes.
Polynice can help this team if he works through this setback and regains his touch as penetrator, passer and finisher in the lane. With rebounds and steals, he’s a guy who can really fill up a stat line.
“There are going to be some conversations,” Kennedy said. “I’m going to reflect on what we’re doing as a staff, and we’re going to reflect on our personnel. We are trying to compete for an SEC championship and will do everything we can to put that product on the floor. That’s a very high standard, but it’s our standard.”
On paper in late March it looks as though the Rebels can take that step forward next year and earn the program’s first NCAA berth since 2002.
But it might be some time before the ink dries on those roster spots.

Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@djournal.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily about Ole Miss athletics at NEMS360.com.