By David Brandt
Marshall Henderson will eventually be back to help Ole Miss try to make the NCAA tournament for a second straight season.
It’s unclear if he’ll have enough help around him to make that a reality.
The Rebels are coming off one of the most successful seasons in the school’s history, finishing with a 27-9 record, Southeastern Conference tournament championship and trip to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002.
But now coach Andy Kennedy must replace veteran big men like Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner, who provided almost all of the inside muscle, not to mention plenty of points and rebounds.
“We’re losing, if you think about it, about 25 (points) and 18 (rebounds) per game,” Kennedy said. “Those are not easy numbers to replace and I’m not going to ask two guys to do it.”
Henderson should provide the majority of the outside scoring, but the Rebels are hoping for less drama. The 6-foot-2 guard led the SEC with 20.1 points per game this season, but has already been suspended for three games, including two SEC games, for his on-and off-the-court conduct over the past year.
His production when he’s playing is undeniable.
“He’s a guy that’s coming off a tremendous year as it relates to what he was able to accomplish as a player,” Kennedy said, who added that Henderson has assumed more of a leadership role this season.
Veteran guards Jarvis Summers and LaDarius White will see the majority of time in the backcourt with Henderson. Summers led the team with nearly four assists per game while White averaged 6.4 points per game and was arguably the team’s best defensive stopper.
In the paint, Aaron Jones returns after tearing an ACL midway through last season. The 6-foot-9 junior showed signs of defensive brilliance last season, and Kennedy said he has been fully cleared to start the season.
The Rebels will also rely on several freshmen – especially in the paint. Kennedy said a pair of 6-foot-9 forwards – Dwight Coleby and Sebastian Saiz – should be able to help immediately.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
ALL EYES ON HENDERSON: Marshall Henderson is an undeniable talent – averaging 20.1 points per game last season – but his on-and off-the-court antics have grown a little old in Oxford. He’s already been suspended three games this season for his conduct dating back almost a year and everyone will be watching to see if he can keep his behavior in check.
REPLACING THE BIG MEN: Big men Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner aren’t with the Rebels anymore, and they’ll be sorely missed. The two combined for about 25 points and 18 rebounds per game, not to mention bruising post defense. Young players like Aaron Jones, Dwight Coleby and Sebastian Saiz will be asked to make large contributions.
STEADY GUARDS: Henderson is the biggest name in the Ole Miss backcourt, but the Rebels will also rely on Jarvis Summers and LaDarius White. The two juniors have played a lot of minutes the past two seasons and will be asked to do the same this season. Summers is the team’s only true point guard while White’s biggest value is as a defensive stopper.
RETURN OF JONES: Aaron Jones looked like a future star last season – especially on the defensive end – before tearing an ACL against Kentucky. Coach Andy Kennedy consistently praises Jones’ athletic ability and also his intelligence and knack for being in the right place at the right time. The Rebels need him to become more productive on the offensive end after he averaged just 3.5 points last season.
BACK TO RELEVANCE: Ole Miss snapped the SEC’s longest drought without an NCAA tournament last season by blowing through the SEC tournament for an automatic bid. Now the Rebels hope for an extended stay as a relevant program in the SEC. The chances of that occurring are largely tied to the development of players around Henderson – especially in the paint.