Ole Miss-Baylor: Day After Observations

Deandre Burnett remains the Rebels' leading scorer but hasn't shot well since returning from a high ankle sprain. (AP photo)

Deandre Burnett remains the Rebels’ leading scorer but hasn’t shot well since returning from a high ankle sprain. (AP photo)

Notes and thoughts from a near-miss against a very talented Baylor team. …

There was a time in Ole Miss basketball history that top-five near-misses would be celebrated, but that time has long since passed.

However, given the immediate state of the team this season the effort and energy displayed by Ole Miss against Baylor was a pleasant surprise.

It was unexpected. The Rebels were competitive for so few minutes when the last top 10 team, Kentucky, came to town, and aside from Tennessee there’s been no other home SEC game from which to draw much confidence in this team.

Ole Miss had chances to win against Texas A&M, but the Aggies’ dominance in the post didn’t give you the feeling that the Rebels were about to get the critical stops they needed. Ultimately they did not.

So that’s why Saturday’s 78-75 loss to Baylor surprised a lot of people if not the Rebels themselves.

This might not have been surprising if you looked at this game on the schedule back in October. It was during that time Andy Kennedy had some interesting pieces and parts and reasons for optimism for this team.

There was a Miami transfer, a former Parade All-American. There was a New Mexico transfer who had averaged around 12 points and four assists at the Division I level.

There was a returning senior in the middle, and some interesting young players behind him.

Things have changed for this team and not for the better. One of those interesting young players, Karlis Silins, suffered a torn ACL early in the year. The other playing behind Sebastian Saiz, Nate Morris, has been dismissed.

It was good to see Rasheed Brooks back on the floor yesterday. His timing will improve, and he’ll help this team again. Here’s hoping his health is where it needs to be.

His seizure and subsequent time away also impacted this team as it put the Rebels in a real numbers crunch as it relates to scholarship players.

The bottom line on what we’ve seen with this bunch through January is that the transfers – Deandre Burnett, Cullen Neal and Justas Furmanavicius – haven’t been as consistent as Kennedy had hoped.

Personally, I think expecting big things of three players is to become too transfer reliant.

Kennedy has had some success plugging in second-chance players before.

His best team at Ole Miss featured Marshall Henderson as a junior. Surrounding Henderson that year were three very good high school signees in Murphy Holloway, Reggie Buckner and Jarvis Summers.

Stefan Moody is another transfer who was one of the top players in the SEC for two seasons.

Listening to Kennedy this season he’s hit on issues that might have been less pronounced right now if more of this team’s prominent players had been in the program longer. We’ve heard him talk about chemistry. We saw him after the Tennessee game get excited for the “selflessness” he saw in his players, something he hadn’t seen enough of previously. Then after the Baylor game, in response to a question about rebounding, he said he’d like to see his players “in the fight” and more committed to rebounding, a statistical category where success is often fueled by effort and desire.

Speaking of transfers …

Neal will be remembered for two late turnovers against Baylor, and as an upperclassman he needs more court savvy and awareness at crunch time. The Rebels, though, aren’t in position to beat Baylor without his contributions throughout his 25 minutes. Neal was 2 for 4 from 3 and had 13 points, three assists and a steal.

Burnett didn’t have a great week shooting the ball. It should be noted that he’s played three games since coming back from a high ankle sprain.

He was good at Missouri, but his 3 for 6 3-point shooting masked the fact that he shot less than 40 percent overall.

This week he was 5 for 14 against Texas A&M and 1 for 10 against Baylor. If you’re scoring at home that’s 25 percent for the week and 29 percent over the last three games.

High ankle sprains don’t play. They often linger. Burnett will tell you he’s fine, but it’s not surprising that his percentages have dipped coming off that injury, especially when you remember the obvious pain he felt when he was helped off the floor against Georgia.

Through the years we’ve seen Kennedy many times in late-game situations spread the floor and put the ball in the hands of his best guard. It was telling against Baylor that when he had the chance to do that Breein Tyree had the ball.

It’s great to see Tyree’s recent development. The next big step for him is consistency. Not that he’s going to shoot 6 for 9 from the floor and score 20 points every night, but the drop should be as far as it was after his Tennessee game. Tyree had his first SEC “wow” game against the Vols when he had 15 points and a season-high six assists. I thought he really took a step forward in finishing at the rim in that game.

In his next two games, Missouri and Texas A&M, Tyree had only nine points and four assists combined.

He has to produce more than that for this team to have a chance, particularly while Burnett is off his game.

If those two can get it going at the same time this team might get something done down the stretch. If Burnett and Tyree are getting to the rim and the free throw line – Burnett is averaging slightly better than four free throw attempts in the last three games – that will make Saiz even or formidable.

And for all that’s gone askew this season Saiz – a four-year senior – has not. He’s been even better than expected and is having a real All-SEC year. Hopefully SEC coaches at the end will agree. He continues to lead the league in rebounding and remains the only SEC player averaging a double-double. He out-played Baylor’s national player of the year candidate in the first half Saturday night before lack of depth caught up with Saiz.

So, it’s Mississippi State at The Pavilion Tuesday night on Signing Day Eve. If Saturday’s Rebels show up Ole Miss will have a very good chance for its second home SEC win.

Parrish Alford

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