Published on January 7th, 2016 | by Alex Thiel0
The Pavilion Set to open as Rebs’ Conference Slate Kicks Into Gear
Oxford, MS – The wait is over, folks. Ole Miss Rebel basketball will make its much-anticipated debut at The Pavilion against Alabama on Jan. 7 at 8 PM.
The $85 million gym will feature 9,500 seats, multiple new on-campus dining options, and the largest video board in college basketball to date. What was once an eyesore amidst the never-ending on-campus construction has morphed into a shining beacon for the basketball program. The Pavilion will stand alongside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium as the “front door” for Ole Miss athletics, and one would expect a raucous crowd Thursday night even without regular class being in session.
Lost in the excitement of the new digs (and, let’s be honest, the excitement surrounding football in the past few months) is the fact that the Rebels have yet to lose in Oxford this year. The Rebs suffered only their third loss of the season in their conference opener at Kentucky, and though they were practically run out of the gym during their trip to Lexington, there are a lot of reasons to be excited about Ole Miss basketball as it enters conference play.
Sitting at 10-3, Ole Miss sports the fourth-highest win total in the conference—trailing, at press time, South Carolina’s 14 and Texas A&M/Kentucky’s 11. Those three teams are the only ranked foes on the Rebs’ conference schedule, though the always-tough Vanderbilt Commodores have been receiving votes as of late. Add in two games apiece against the still-developing freshmen stars at LSU (Ben Simmons) and Mississippi State (Malik Newman), and the Rebs are staring down a challenging, yet manageable gauntlet that offers plenty of opportunity for boosting the all-important RPI.
Let’s not forget the importance of a road win at Memphis, either. The roundball Rebels served up a little revenge for the football team’s previous shortcomings against the Tigers, and they should be rewarded accordingly on Selection Sunday.
As was expected entering this season, 2015-16 has been Episode 2 of the Stefan Moody Show. The diminutive superstar has averaged 23.7 points per game thus far, and has been lighting up highlight reels with his extended range and his freakish athleticism. It remains true that, at least on the offensive end, the Rebel threat begins and ends with Moody. Still, despite drawing the majority of attention from opposing game-planners, his effectiveness has evidently not been compromised.
That’s not to downplay the contribution from veteran big man Sebastian Saiz, however; he’s .2 rebounds per game away from averaging a double-double in his junior campaign. Tomasz Gielo has also proved to be a versatile and effective second option on offense, as his size and shooting range have been welcome additions this season. This was on full display in the Tad Pad’s finale against Troy, in which he shot a solid 50% from the field (including 5 of 11 attempted threes) and snagged 6 rebounds in a 23-point performance.
One wonders, however, what this team could be capable of with slightly better interior play. This has been a common gripe for Ole Miss fans during Andy Kennedy’s tenure, as his staff has shown a tendency to recruit athleticism and shooting ability above size and toughness inside. While Saiz has been serviceable throughout his career, others in the frontcourt will need to step up in order to keep the Rebels dynamic and multi-dimensional.
However, another hallmark of Andy Kennedy’s Ole Miss teams have been a tendency to improve in the season’s second half, gradually putting all the parts together in conference play and making a push toward the NCAA Tournament come March. Perhaps The Pavilion will provide a boost to these Rebels as the crucial second half of the season develops; you can feel sure that the in-game atmosphere will be unlike anything Kennedy’s teams (and fans) have experienced to date.