SEC Season Preview: Ole Miss Rebels

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 7th, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next week, continuing today with Ole Miss.

Andy Kennedy might have his deepest team yet at Ole Miss despite the fact he’s replacing the most prolific player of his tenure. Yes, Marshall Henderson is gone, but Jarvis Summers is not. And if you had to pick between the two, you’d be hard-pressed to pass over Summers since he was quite simply one the best players in the SEC last season (ninth in PER). LaDarius White is another senior starter in the backcourt and Kennedy also adds two guards with Division I experience in Stefan Moody and Terence Smith. The frontcourt has its offensive limitations but could go as far as five deep. The optimistic Ole Miss fan sees players like Aaron Jones and Dwight Coleby filling their roles protecting the rim, while Anthony Perez and Sebastian Saiz develop into consistent contributors on offense. Henderson will of course be missed, but Kennedy has some depth to work with in trying to return the Rebels to the NCAA Tournament.

Jarvis Summers will be one of the most heavily relied on players in the SEC this season (

Jarvis Summers will be one of the most heavily relied on players in the SEC this season (

Weaknesses. Ole Miss may be deep but the Rebels will need to prove that they can score. Summers is an excellent player but there’s no doubt that he benefited from the focus that opposing defense paid to Henderson manically running around screens. Other than Summers, there are few proven scoring options on the team. White has some experience but is a career 38.9 percent shooter. None of the returning Ole Miss big men scored more than 7.1 points per game last season, although Perez and Saiz showed glimpses of potential. It may be that Kennedy is counting on his newcomers with Division I experience to carry a big portion of the scoring load. Smith (14.6 points per game at Tennessee-Martin) and M.J. Rhett (10.9 points per game at Tennessee State) averaged double figure scoring last season, but those numbers came in the Ohio Valley Conference. Moody scored 15.7 points per game at Florida Atlantic en route to the 2012-13 Sun Belt Freshman of the Year award before off-court issues led him to junior college. There are several glimmers of potential on this roster for Kennedy, but it’s never comforting to rely on players who have yet to suit up for the program.

Toughest Non-Conference Test. The Rebels’ pre-conference slate is the type of “slim pickings” situation Mike Slive warned league coaches about. A trip to Dayton to play Archie Miller’s Flyers on December 30 is the only game that looks remotely difficult on paper. Ole Miss also plays a Creighton team without Doug McDermott in the Emerald Coast Classic, and if things go well could eventually face Cincinnati there. In Kennedy’s defense, a trip to Oregon on December 7 might have been another marquee game if not for the troubles that program faced over the summer.

Toughest Conference Stretch. The Rebels get thrown into the fire right away with a trip to Lexington on January 6 to open SEC play. A week and a half later they begin a stretch that will take them to Fayetteville and Athens in a three-day window, capped off with a home game against Florida. Ole Miss is a largely veteran team with a veteran coach that will need to come together quickly and capitalize on some of those early season opportunities. As of now, it looks like only games at Florida on February 12 and at LSU on February 28 will be chances for resume-boosting wins after January.

Projected Starters

  • PG Jarvis Summers (6’3’’)
  • SG Terence Smith (6’4’’’)
  • SG LaDarius White (6’6’’)
  • PF Aaron Jones (6’9’’)
  • PF Anthony Perez (6’9’’)

Questions will linger over Summers’ ability to become the player an offense revolves around until he proves life without Henderson won’t drastically affect his output. My bet is that the returns will be just fine, since he’s a career 41.1 percent three-point shooter and has posted a career assist rate nearly 10 percentage points greater than his turnover rate. Smith should be a threat from the outside (43.8 percent from three last season) who takes good care of the ball (10.5 percent turnover rate) and can pitch in on the glass (3.6 rebounds per game). Those numbers probably won’t carry over verbatim into a tougher conference, but it’s not a bad place to start. White averaged over 20 minutes per game during the last two years but isn’t much of an offensive threat. The same can be said for Jones, but his primary job will be protecting the rim (8.7 block rate last season). It could be that Perez and Saiz flip depending on who has the hotter hand, but Kennedy needs one of those two big men to develop into a consistent scoring threat down low. Perez had slightly better shooting numbers last season, scoring in double figures in eight conference games.

Projected Bench

  • PG/SG Stefan Moody (5’9’’)
  • SG Roderick Lawrence (6’5’’)
  • SG Martavious Newby (6’3’’)
  • SF Terry Brutus (6’6’’)
  • SF Marcanvis Hymon (6’6’’)
  • PF M.J. Rhett (6’9’’)
  • PF Sebastian Saiz (6’9’’)
  • C Dwight Coleby (6’9’’)

I projected Smith alongside Summers in the starting lineup, but it very well could be Moody or Lawrence, and all three should get plenty of opportunities to establish themselves in the rotation. Kennedy will need the scoring punch Moody provided at FAU (15.7 PPG), and he should be able to handle point guard duties as well. Also, if anyone is going to replace the excitement that left with Henderson it might be Moody and his absurd dunking skills. Rhett is another player who will likely start at some point this season. His offensive numbers improved each year at Tennessee State and he has never posted a defensive rebounding rate lower than 21.6 percent. This could be important since, as the scouting adage goes, the ability to rebound translates no matter the level. Saiz is an intriguing player, as he posted a decent 15.1 PER with limited touches last season, leading the Ole Miss regulars in total rebounding rate (15.1 percent). Brutus is returning to the rotation after missing last season with a torn ACL. Coleby is another rim-protecting big man with offensive limitations.

If Everything Goes Right. With all the right boxes checked, you can faintly see a team that challenges for an NCAA Tournament spot. Someone is going to have to emerge from the SEC’s pack of middle-tier programs and string together wins like Georgia did last season. There’s no reason Ole Miss can’t be that team with a player like Summers manning the sport’s most important position. There may not be another established top-level guard on the team, but both Moody and Smith have had success at the Division I level. Kennedy needs either Perez, Saiz or Rhett to emerge as a dependable low post scorer and allow the rest of the big men to settle into their roles as defensive-minded rim-protectors. There is depth on this team, and the right pieces developing around Summers could lead to Kennedy’s seventh 20-win team at Ole Miss, and the second that gets an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.

If Nothing Goes Right. Kennedy is relying on a number of players taking a step up in game-in, game-out competition (Rhett, Smith and Moody) to carry the scoring load. That could be risky, especially because no big man on the roster other than Rhett has averaged more than 7.1 points per game in a college season. There’s also the possibility that Summers’ production takes a step back without defenses focusing on Henderson. That could result in the Rebels tumbling further down the SEC standings and making it look like the NCAA Tournament run two years ago was an anomaly. Even if Ole Miss avoids disaster, its non-conference schedule appears to be the prime formula for another Kennedy team that gets to 20 wins but doesn’t have enough meat on its resume to impress the committee. That puts added pressure on the Rebels to avoid a crushing loss in the non-conference season and pounce on the precious few opportunities the SEC schedule presents (in flashing lights – KENTUCKY and FLORIDA).

Extra Point. Don’t tell me you weren’t wondering what has become of Henderson’s professional basketball career. After spending the preseason with several Italian teams, it appears he has landed at Al Rayyan Doha in Qatar’s national basketball league. Here’s wishing Henderson much success and a smooth transition to life in the Middle East. There’s a sentence I never thought I would type.

Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) (231 Posts)

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