SEC Transition Basketball: Mississippi RebelsPosted by Brian Joyce on July 26th, 2012
It’s hot out there, and to many of us, college basketball is the last thing on our minds. But here at the SEC Microsite, we’re going to be rolling out mid-summer resets of each of the (now) 14 basketball programs in our league. We’re calling it Transition Basketball, and you can expect we’ll cover three or four teams a week until we’re done. By that time, we’ll actually start to be turning the slight corner into the fall, and from there it’s a smooth slope down to Midnight Madness in mid-October. Today’s update: Mississippi.
State of the Program
Coach Andy Kennedy has led Ole Miss to the NIT in five of his first six seasons as head coach, but has yet to reach the NCAA Tournament while in Oxford. Under Kennedy, the Rebs have never done better than 9-7 in conference play, and 2011-12 was more of the same. There were several low points including a 30-point loss to Marquette and a 26-point home loss to Vanderbilt. After an 8-8 conference record saddled with mid- to late-season losses of two of its most talented players — the dismissal of guard Dundrecous Nelson for marijuana charges and the suspension (and eventual departure) of guard Jelan Kendrick for being, well, his true self — Ole Miss might be ready for a fresh start. But could this be the year that the Rebs take the next step and get into the Big Dance?
There is certainly enough talent in Oxford for Ole Miss to get over the hump. Kennedy returns three double figure scorers in all. Guard Jarvis Summers and wing Nick Williams bring back a lot of experience in the backcourt while seniors Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner return to form one of the best front lines in the conference. Kennedy welcomes six newcomers to the fold next season, but Holloway knows the secret to how the Rebels will advance. “I think we have a lot of pieces that can help us soon, but I think it’ll be more of our returning players that already get it,” Holloway said. “We kinda got it at the end of the season last year and what you have to do to win. There’s no way around it, this is what you got to do.”
Perhaps 2012-13 is a season truly worth the anticipation, but for the Rebs to succeed they will have to do so with a lot of new faces. “Almost half of our team is new guys,” Kennedy said during an interview this summer. Six newcomers are coming in all, and many of them will see significant time on the court next season. Junior college transfer Marshall Henderson, who brings Division I experience with him from Utah and Anthony Perez-Cortesia, a four-star recruit currently playing with the Venezuelan national team, highlight the class for the Rebels. Junior college transfer Jason Carter, 6’3″ shooting guard Martavious Newby, 6’6″ forward Terry Brutus, and 5’10” point guard Derrick Millinghaus complete the remaining signees.
Unfortunately, both Carter and Brutus were arrested this summer. Carter was charged with possession of marijuana, while Brutus was arrested for DUI. After off the court distractions and chemistry issues destroyed the team’s chances last season, it is unlikely that Kennedy will take these issues lightly. And even Kennedy admits, coaches simply never know how a situation will play out. “If I sign him I feel like he’s worth the risk, and every kid is a risk,” Kennedy said. “You just never know. You do as much due diligence as possible, but until you get them all in the room and start playing those games, you just don’t know what you’re dealing with, really.” For Ole Miss to take a step forward in the hierarchy of the SEC, it will need each and every player to make a positive contribution.
6’4″ guard Jarvis Summers averaged 10.4 points and 3.4 assists per game in his freshman year on a dysfunctional team. His sophomore year, with distractions removed, should be an opportunity to develop on the progress he made last season. Even teammates are taking notice that Summers is advancing in offseason workouts. Forward Murphy Holloway recently commented that, “I feel like everybody – Jarvis (Summers) handles his business. Nick (Williams), everybody is going to do what we do.”
And scoring is what Summers does best. While his overall numbers are impressive, his development late in the season is especially noteworthy. Summers averaged 14.5 points over the last six games, including scoring in double figures during each game during that span. In fact, in his last game of the year, Summers scored 16 points and dished out 12 assists for his first double-double of the season. The spike in Summers’ scoring just happens to correspond with teammate Jelan Kendrick’s removal from the team. With Kendrick and Nelson now gone, Summers has an opportunity to become the leader in the backcourt with the ball in his hands. And that should allow the sophomore to flourish.
Three Questions With Red Cup Rebellion
It may be football time in the SEC, but the guys from Red Cup Rebellion sat down with us to discuss the current state of University of Mississippi basketball. Well, right after we convinced them to put down the whiskey bottle. (Hey, those guys really like their whiskey.) And when you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. So imagine we’re all sitting around the (virtual) bar talking college basketball and enjoying each others’ company with a red solo cup of your favorite beverage. And oh yeah, this is probably the point at which I’m supposed to say Hotty Toddy.
Rush the Court: Four starters and seven of the top nine players in the rotation return this year, giving the Rebels a lot of experience. Murphy Holloway commented recently that the team “got it” towards the end of last season. Do you think that will carry over into the wins column this year? Using last season’s 8-8 mark in conference play as the standard, are you taking the over or under on eight wins this season in the SEC? The Rebs have been stuck at around the .500 mark (plus or minus one game) since a disappointing 4-12 year in 2005-06. What will it take for Kennedy’s squad to get over that hump?
RedCupRebellion: We’re going with the over really for two reasons. First, based solely on the potential of our team, Kennedy’s best chance to make the NCAA tournament likely comes next season.We return an incredibly experienced starting front court in seniors Murphy Holloway and Reggie Buckner. Their reserves saw good playing time last year as well and follow the same mantra of the starters. Play physical. Be athletic. We don’t design much offense around our bigs, but Murphy and Reggie have both shown an ability to get points off put backs and second chance opportunities. Our starting guards are likely sophomore point guard Jarvis Summers, sophomore shooting guard Ladarius White, and senior wing Nick Williams. All three are 6’4″ or taller. Summers is a pass-first point guard who accumulated twelve assists in his final game last year. White is a scorer who is capable of making shots from anywhere. Williams is a heady player who transferred from Indiana after his freshman season and has been a glue guy so far at Ole Miss. The reserve guards are very intriguing as well. Last year’s National Junior College Player of the Year junior shooting guard Marshall Henderson is likely the first guy off the bench. He is a three point shooter who scores on volume. Freshman wing Anthony Perez Cortesia is all of 6’10” and can nail the three. He’ll be one of the SEC’s more interesting freshmen players outside of Kentucky.
So, despite losing vocal leader and productive forward Terrance Henry to graduation, we’re a talented team. Even more than that though, the SEC should be pretty down this year. Mississippi State, South Carolina, Georgia, LSU, and a few others could be quite bad. While that doesn’t spell much in the way of tournament bids being given to the SEC, it really just may come down to numbers. Ole Miss has a legitimate shot at being in the top five in the conference. You’ve got to think that, with that, we’re in.
RTC: Speaking of Holloway, Auburn coach Tony Barbee recently called him a “bull in a china shop” and said Ole Miss had one of the best front lines in the country last season. With two key components of that frontline returning in Holloway and teammate Reginald Buckner, how does Ole Miss compare this season?
RCR: Obviously the returns of Murphy and Reggie are crucial to our front line success. Murphy averaged 11 and 9 last season with Buckner adding 7 and 8 along with 2.2 blocks per game. They are relentless and incredibly physical. Teams often look timid to go after Holloway and Buckner simply because they know how strong they will be coming. It’s particularly fun to watch the way Buckner alters offenses. Even shots he doesn’t get a piece of in the paint are often put up weakly out of fear they’ll be blocked. And Holloway’s such an effective rebounder that he oftentimes plays like someone two or three inches taller than he actually is.
Then there are the reserves. As I mentioned earlier, I’m pretty high on them. I don’t know if they’ll effectively transition to starters after Buckner and Holloway graduate, but they will be very adequate backups. Junior Demarco Cox is the primary backup at the five spot. He averaged roughly three and three last year in 13 minutes per game, but I personally believe he was more effective than his stats suggest. Cox came in, played within his role, and found a niche on the team. He provided a breather to Buckner without costing the team much. Demarco doesn’t display the defensive prowess of Buckner, but he is a much more capable scorer and uses angles well. He’s the annoying type of center who shouldn’t be able to do what he does. The one who isn’t as athletic as the guy defending him but uses the rim to his advantage.
Sophomore Aaron Jones on the other hand is an athletic big whose role will grow significantly this year. Jones averaged just eight minutes per game last season, but that was more of a testament to the now graduated Terrance Henry’s durability than to Jones’ ability. He will be asked to provide a spark off the bench defensively and pick up garbage points on the offensive end.
To put it simply: we’ll have one of the better frontcourts in the SEC. I have no doubt about that.
RTC: Last season featured a balanced attack with five players averaging in double figures. If Ole Miss is down by one point and 10 seconds remain on the clock, who do you give the ball to give the Rebels the best chance to win this season? Do the Rebs have a go to guy this year?
RCR: Being down just one, I’d like to say that you get the ball to point guard Jarvis Summers who feeds it to Ladarius White or Murphy Holloway. White can attack the basket, and Holloway just has a knack for getting the ball in the hoop in traffic. If I had to pick one, I guess I’d say Murphy Holloway because I value senior leadership in these sorts of situations.
Were we down three, almost certainly the answer to your question would be inbound junior Marshall Henderson. The Achilles heel of Ole Miss last season was the team’s lack of true three point threats and players who could make free throws down the stretch. Enter Henderson, who shot 45% from three last year and 88% at the line in junior college en route to leading South Plains (TX) to a Juco national title and being named the Junior College Player of the Year. Henderson experienced division one play as a true freshman at Utah where he averaged twelve points per game, even scoring 26 against Michigan. We’re likely to put the ball in his hands when we’re down late because he’s the guy you want with the ball at the stripe or beyond the arc when the game’s on the line.
Twitter Style 2012-13 Outlook
Andy Kennedy has everything he needs to put Ole Miss near the top of the standings in the SEC. Expect consistently solid basketball.
Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.