Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: this year’s transfer-heavy Ole Miss Basketball Squad has shown promise in early nonconference games, despite losing to some less-than-stellar competition along the way.
You may recall that last year’s team opened up with a home loss to Charleston Southern before rebounding and notching a win in the NCAA tournament. So struggling early with a still-gelling lineup does not immediately spell doom and gloom for the Rebel roundballers. Still, the upcoming stretch of nonconference competition will be crucial to the team’s development as they gear up for the SEC schedule and the opening of The Pavilion in January.
This Saturday, Dec. 5, Ole Miss will travel to Amherst, Massachusetts to take on the UMass Minutemen in the Basketball Holiday Hall of Fame Showcase (whatever that is). The Rebs’ previous road invitational, the Gildan Charleston Classic, was not very kind to them—Ole Miss dropped two of its three games, one to Seton Hall and another to a sub-.500 George Mason squad.
UMass has impressed so far this season, handing Clemson its only loss and doing away with the always-solid Harvard Crimson. The Minutemen’s lone blemish on the year is a road loss at Creighton. UMass is built somewhat like the Rebels, with most of the scoring coming from a trio of guards, led by transfer guard Jabarie Hinds’ 20 ppg. Add in the fact that UMass is enjoying their first year in a new arena, and Ole Miss will have their hands full with a mirror-image of an opponent. It should be a solid test for the Rebels’ backcourt, defensively.
Next comes a relatively short trip up to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, to take on the winless Southeast Missouri Redhawks. SEMO has been, to put it politely, uncompetitive in each of its contests this year; their closest game at press time was a nine-point loss at UT-Pan American. They’ve started a different lineup in almost all of their games thus far, and one doesn’t get the sense that it’s because of a Kentucky-esque distribution of talent. Should the Rebs lose this one, we could start asking some big questions.
Finally, Ole Miss returns home for a tilt against Louisiana Tech in the Tad Pad’s second-to-last mens’ home game. The Bulldogs garnered some attention by knocking off Ohio State on the road earlier this year, but were just easily handled at Memphis for their first loss on the year. The Rebs would seem more talented on paper, but a packed-out Tad Pad would certainly help their chances against a team that’s looking to pick fights.
For the Rebels, Stefan Moody and Sebastian Saiz have been steady, veteran options thus far and have drawn every start. Newcomers Sam Finley and Tomasz Geilo have been pleasant surprises, however, averaging a combined 16 points and 7 rebounds a game. Seven Rebs average over five points a game right now—a good sign, considering that ball movement will be crucial to this offense’s success.
In short, there’s a lot of basketball left to be played. But these early contests are more than just exhibitions or tune-ups; many of these teams could be quality RPI boosts when Selection Sunday rolls around. The question is whether or not Kennedy’s team can take advantage of this—and two of the past three years, the answer has been “yes.”