Published on November 12th, 2015 | by Alex Thiel0
2015–16 Ole Miss Basketball Preview: Rebs Look to Reload Once Again as New Chapter Dawns
It’s that time of year once again.
This weekend, the Ole Miss Rebels basketball team will quietly take the floor as most of Rebel Nation is still in full-on football mode. Each year, the Rebs begin the season without much fanfare, and few national pundits have Ole Miss in their preseason tournament brackets. However, Andy Kennedy has shown in his decade at the helm that he will never field a pushover, and more often than not, he is able to produce a team of transfer stars and serviceable role-players that is in the bubble conversation come March.
Perhaps the biggest storyline this year is the mid-season opening of The Pavilion, a new basketball arena right next to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium that will finally put our beloved (?) Tad Pad to rest. Ole Miss Basketball has recruited and performed remarkably well given the limitations of the facilities during Kennedy’s tenure, and one would expect this to only improve now that the Rebs have some shiny new digs to call home. Tad Smith Coliseum will remain Ole Miss’ home floor until the SEC home opener on January 7 vs. Alabama, when The Pavilion will make its grand debut. Your last chance to catch a basketball game (and maybe some raindrops on your head, who knows?) at the Tad Pad will be December 22 vs. Troy. One would hope that both the closure of the old stadium and the opening of the new would bolster Rebel Nation’s attendance numbers (this is me calling out the, shall we say, lukewarm home crowds that have plagued the program for some time now. We’ve put up with the parking nightmares and traffic jams—let’s at least go check out the stadium, whaddaya say?).
As far as the actual players suiting up for Ole Miss this year, there are a few familiar faces in key roles, and several exciting newcomers filling in for departed veterans like Snoop White and Jarvis Summers.
Let’s not kid ourselves—any conversation about Ole Miss Basketball this year begins with sharpshooting 2-guard Stefan Moody, who took the conference by storm last year en route to 16.6 points per game. The diminutive 3-point specialist fills a familiar role for Kennedy, who has shown a tendency to lean on his guards and his perimeter game for scoring production over the years. But while Moody is a known commodity, there are a lot of other question marks on the floor for the Rebs.
Let’s start at the other guard position. Jarvis Summers was a solid point guard last season, and at times showed flashes of star power. His veteran leadership is gone, however, and now two newcomers (transfer Sam Finley and freshman J.T. Escobar) will be vying for playing time. Although Finley impressed with 21 points in as many minutes in last week’s exhibition vs. Clayton State, Escobar actually drew the start and, according to Kennedy, has displayed superior game management and defensive skills in practice. Both players will look to fill a crucial role in the backcourt, allowing Moody to focus on manufacturing scoring opportunities rather than distributing the ball. Moody’s an excellent catch-and-shoot guy from deep, and the more the offense can lean on Finley and Escobar, the more efficient it will be.
Down low, the Rebs will welcome back the duo of Anthony Perez and Sebastian Saiz. With Saiz at center and Perez at forward, Ole Miss returns most of its experience in the frontcourt. These two will have to prove, however, that they have developed defensively and learned to muscle their way around the low post in order for the Rebels to take the next step once conference play arrives. The two combined averaged below 10 points and 8 rebounds per game last year, and although Kennedy seems to prefer a forward-by-committee approach, Perez and Saiz will be looked upon to increase their production as they enter their senior and junior years, respectively.
Don’t overlook newcomer Tomasz Gielo, either; the Polish transfer forward from Liberty impressed in last week’s exhibition, and Kennedy has hinted that he has more plans up his sleeve to get the big man involved. Standing at 6’9” and displaying a soft touch on the outside shot, Gielo looks like a dangerous and versatile weapon in Kennedy’s offense. Once again, though, the question will be whether or not he can provide a defensive jolt to a frontcourt that’s struggled to replicate the success of the Murphy Holloway/Reginald Buckner days.
Out on the wing, returning senior Martavious Newby is joined by redshirt freshman Marcanvis Hymon. Newby has been serviceable, if unexceptional, in his career thus far at Ole Miss, and Hymon could push him for playing time. Fans will recall several clutch moments from Snoop White last year that helped the team on their tournament run, even if he wasn’t one of the flashiest or most prominent guards in the conference. A reliable ace-in-the-hole like White is underrated and hard to replace, but Newby has often appeared up to the task. We’ll see if he continues to improve—the Rebs certainly can’t afford a regression at this position.
The makeup of this team reminds me of the 2013–14 team which, frankly, struggled at times. The Marshall Henderson Show did indeed rely on its supporting cast the previous year, and it showed. Henderson couldn’t shoulder the burden on his own, no matter how many 3-pointers he lobbed up. In order for this year’s squad to compete, it will have to prove it has reliable options beyond Stefan Moody on offense, with sturdy rebounding and on-ball defense elsewhere on the court.
But in his tenure at Ole Miss, Andy Kennedy has proved to be something of a basketball Iron Chef—taking disparate, last-minute ingredients and whipping up something that not only gets the job done, but impresses while doing so. I don’t expect the Rebels to breeze through a sneakily-tough schedule on their way to their third NCAA Tournament in four years, but I do think that this year’s team will be hard-working, competitive, and right in the thick of the SEC race deep into the spring. As the winningest coach in the history of a program that’s looking to start a new chapter, Andy Kennedy has earned that expectation from us.