Sometimes, you don’t know what you got till it’s gone.
That adage certainly applies to the Ole Miss Rebel Basketball team this week, as they learned that starting center Sebastian Saiz will be out indefinitely with a torn retina that’s been compromising his vision since last month’s tilt with Memphis.
Saiz went in for surgery on Tuesday morning, and will almost surely miss conference games against Mississippi State and Auburn, as well as a difficult road game at Kansas State.
I’ve been guilty of bemoaning the Rebs’ presence under the basket for, well, years. Aside from the brief stint of Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner playing side-by-side a few years ago, a common gripe of the Kennedy era has been a predictable dependence on diminutive perimeter players to carry the scoring load and dictate the team’s style. Sebas, to some, is just another in a string of serviceable-if-inconsistent Ole Miss big men.
But anybody who’s seen the Rebs play this season knows that, short of Saiz, the Rebels truly lack for strength under the basket. His absence will surely exacerbate Ole Miss’ struggles in the post, but it also gives us an opportunity to take a second look at his production this season.
Saiz has been averaging 12.8 points per game this year, good for second on the team (behind Stefan Moody’s staggering 24.3). His 9.8 rebounds per game are far and away the highest total for the Rebs, with Marcanvis Hymon and Martavious Newby averaging just over four boards per game. Anytime your center is averaging a double-double per game (I’ll give Sebas the benefit of rounding up) and playing the second-most minutes overall, it’s safe to say that his absence will leave a gaping hole in your game plan.
For all the excitement surrounding the program and its new arena, Ole Miss is in danger of missing out on the NCAA tournament—and perhaps even the NIT—unless someone can pick up Saiz’s slack. A shellacking at the hands of Florida and an overtime home loss vs. South Carolina leave the Rebs (12-6, 2-4 SEC) with very little wiggle room in conference play, and Moody can’t do it all.
This is assuming that Stefan Moody will be available for the rest of the season—he left with an apparent leg injury with about five minutes left vs. South Carolina, and didn’t score upon returning. His status is unknown at press time, but suffice to say that without Moody at full health, Ole Miss will struggle mightily.
A trip to the Hump in Starkville is never a gimme—despite Mississippi State’s recent struggles—and the Auburn Tigers were recently injected with new life after a home upset of Kentucky. One of the Rebs’ other post options (Tomasz Gielo? Marcanvis Hymon? Anthony Perez, at long last?) will have to step up their production as well as their leadership in order to replace Saiz.
It’s not as if all hope is gone; Anthony Perez showed off his versatility vs. South Carolina, hitting four 3-pointers at crucial moments, and Gielo has shown flashes of brilliance in the past. But for the most part, Ole Miss’s reserves have not inspired the greatest confidence when the team is on their back. Guard Rasheed Brooks got his fair share of looks against the Gamecocks, but was ice cold. He missed all ten of his shot attempts, including eight from long range.
This does not bode well.
Andy Kennedy’s status as miracle worker is well-documented, however, and the team should benefit from a boost in atmosphere when the students return to The Pavilion in the coming weeks. But the pressure is on,
and the margin for error is shrinking to make the inaugural season in The Pavilion a special one.