After an up-and-down non-conference slate that included wins over Creighton, Cincinnati and Oregon, all away from home, and losses to Charleston Southern and Western Kentucky, both at home, Ole Miss learned a lot about itself in the first week of Southeastern Conference play.
In their league opener, the Rebels went on the road and pushed No. 1 Kentucky to overtime, and then four days later, cruised to a wire-to-wire 65-49 win over South Carolina. One of the keys, head coach Andy Kennedy said, has been finding the right combinations on the floor.
"With us, every player has a strength and a weakness," Kennedy said. "I'm trying to have combinations to cover ourselves. We're getting better at that."
For the Rebels, the right combinations start with their two leading scorers in junior guard Stefan Moody (14.8 ppg), the high-volume scorer, and the senior guard Jarvis Summers (14.4 ppg), the game-manager, who are learning how to play together in the backcourt.
"The biggest thing is Moody has more assertive, as opposed to watching Jarvis," Kennedy said. "He's becoming more assertive and, now he's helping Jarvis. A lot of times early in the season, we were ball-watching a lot. Everybody was watching Jarvis dribble around, and nobody knew how aggressive they needed to be. We're starting to figure that out."
South Carolina head coach Frank Martin, who saw the duo up close and personal this past Saturday, likened Moody to an NFL defensive back because of his freakish athletic ability and described Summers as "probably the least-heralded player in the SEC that's really good." Through two SEC games, Moody and Summers are averaging a combined 21.0 ppg and shooting a combined 49.0 percent from the floor.
"I thought the way they play, I have always felt that (Jarvis) Summers was the heartbeat of their team," LSU head coach Johnny Jones said. "As solid as he is, is the sense of urgency and toughness that he plays with, even when they had Marshall Henderson on the team.
"The different look right now is the newcomer (Stefan Moody) that they have that did take a lot of those (Henderson-type) shots and played so well against Kentucky the other night gives them the feel of Henderson. He's a very capable scorer that can make shots."
After 1-1 start in league play, the Rebels enter a key stretch, where they play three straight games against RPI top 45 opponents, starting with LSU (No. 45) on Wednesday night.
"These are two teams that everybody has in the tournament," said sophomore forward Sebastian Saiz of LSU and Arkansas (No. 13 in the latest RPI). "At the end of the day, they're going to be in the tournament. So to get both of them is going to be really good for us."
LSU is led by sophomore forwards Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey, who are averaging a combined 32.7 ppg and pulling down a combined 19.2 rebounds per game. Martin ranks third in scoring (16.8 ppg) and third in rebounding (8.6 rpg), while Mickey ranks sixth in scoring (15.9 ppg), second in scoring (10.6 rig) and leads the league in blocked shots (3.6/game).
"The conservation with LSU starts with Martin and Mickey, two great players, and they have really taken a big leap forward as you expect from year one to year two," Kennedy said. "They're two guys who caused you a lot of matchup problems because of their size and versatility."
Last season, Kennedy said, their biggest deficiencies were rebounding margin, defensive rebounding percentage, and an inability to finish close to the basket, all areas where Ole Miss has improved from last year to this point in the season.
Against No. 1 Kentucky, the nation's longest team and the league's leader in rebounding margin, scoring defense, field goal percentage and blocked shots, Ole Miss was outrebounded just 34-32 and outscored the Wildcats 30-26 in the paint.
Led by Martin and Mickey, LSU provides another tough test for Ole Miss in each of those respective areas, as the Tigers rank fifth in the league in rebounding margin (+5.2/game) and second in blocked shots (6.3/game).
"Kentucky is the biggest team in college basketball and they would be the second-biggest team in the NBA, so if we can do that against Kentucky, we can do that against anybody else," said Saiz, who scored a career-high 20 points in last year's meeting with LSU."
Ole Miss football finished the 2014 football season with a 9-4 record and a top-20 final national rankings in both polls. The Rebels come in at No. 17 in the Associated Press poll and No. 19 in the Amway Coach Poll, their first final national ranking since 2009 and their highest final national ranking since 2008, when they finished No. 14 in the AP poll and No. 15 in the Coaches poll.
With the 2014 college football season officially in the books, various outlets looked ahead to 2015 and released way-too-early preseason top 25 rankings for 2015. Ole Miss featured prominently in these rankings, including two top-10 rankings, one as as high as No. 7.
Dennis Dodd, CBSSports.com: 7th
The Rebels weren't a one-hit wonder. Hugh Freeze gets back receiver Laquon Treadwell and budding superstar Robert Nkemdiche in the defensive line. The Landshark defense returns with a snarl. If Chad Kelly can keep his nose clean, Ole Miss might be better at quarterback with the departure of Bo Wallace.
Bryan Fischer, Mike Huguenin and Chase Goodbread, NFL.com: 7th
2014 final ranking: 19
Key returnees: DL Robert Nkemdiche, WR Laquon Treadwell, OL Laremy Tunsil
The skinny: The Rebels need to find a quarterback to replace the inconsistent Bo Wallace, but the quality recruiting classes coach Hugh Freeze has brought to Oxford should be starting to pay big dividends this upcoming season. There's a ton of talent that will eventually make its way to the draft, but it still might not be enough to get out of the loaded SEC West on top.
Paul Myerberg, USA Today Sports: 9th
Why No. 9? Because the Rebels improve with each passing season under Hugh Freeze. The offense may be more consistent with a new starter under center, particularly with wide receiver Laquon Treadwell back from injury. The defense will retool in the secondary without two all-conference picks, but the talent along the defensive line is undeniable -- and it's these contributors, led by Robert Nkemdiche, who set the tone for the entire defense. If they can stay healthy, the Rebels might sneak up and take the SEC West Division.
Mark Schlabach, ESPN.com: 11th
2014 record: 9-4, 5-3 SEC
Returning starters: 10 offense, 7 defense, 2 special teams
Key personnel losses: QB Bo Wallace, S Cody Prewitt, CB Senquez Golson, LB Serderius Bryant, LB Deterrian Shackelford
Why they might finish higher: If you can somehow erase the Rebels' horrid performance in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl from your mind, the rest of the 2014 campaign was pretty memorable. The Rebels started 7-0 and were ranked No. 3 in the country before injuries started piling up. They're bringing back 18 players who started the bowl game, and star receiver Laquon Treadwell, cornerback Tee Shepherd and linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche are coming back from injuries.
Why they might finish lower: There's no question Wallace had a roller-coaster career under center, but the Rebels don't have a replacement ready to go. Redshirt freshmen Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade are in line to replace him, although Clemson transfer Chad Kelly could be an option, despite his recent legal problems. There are some significant holes to fill on defense, after losing three of the top five tacklers and two stars in the secondary. Ole Miss' road schedule in 2015 isn't easy, with games at Alabama, Florida, Memphis, Auburn and Mississippi State.
Stewart Mandel, Fox Sports: 11th
The Rebels' Peach Bowl debacle obscured a season in which they beat 12-2 Boise State, 12-2 Alabama and 10-3 Mississippi State. The Rebels will be breaking in a new quarterback but should be deep with playmakers, provided WR Laquon Treadwell returns healthy. And a defense that dominated over the first half of the season should only be more talented.
Steven Lassan, Athlon Sports: 13th
The Rebels are coming off their first season of double-digit victories since 1999. And the arrow on coach Hugh Freeze's team is pointing up, as this team has the pieces in place to finish among the top 10-15 nationally in 2015. Bo Wallace must be replaced at quarterback, but the new starter will benefit from the return at Laquon Treadwell at receiver. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil is one of the best in the nation and is part of an offensive line that returns all five starters from the Peach Bowl depth chart. With the uncertainty at quarterback, the defense will have to carry Ole Miss - at least early on - in 2015. This unit allowed only 13.8 points per game in 12 regular season contests and should have one of the nation's top defensive lines. However, there's concern in the secondary with the departure of cornerback Senquez Golson and safety Cody Prewitt.
Ole Miss Athletics Week in Review
Jan. 6-12, 2015
- Ole Miss went 2-0 on the week with a road win at Florida and a win at home against Alabama, moving to 13-4 overall and 3-1 in SEC action while winning back-to-back SEC games for the first time since 2011-12.
- Ole Miss' win at Florida snapped a 14-game SEC road losing streak and gave Ole Miss it's first SEC road win since Jan 5, 2013, an 88-81 win also in Gainesville.
- Ole Miss' 13-4 start is the best start since 2006-07 when Ole Miss opened the season 16-4 and advanced to the Elite Eight while Ole Miss' 3-1 SEC start is the best since 2009-10 when the Rebels opened up 4-1
- Tia Faleru extended her double-double streak to five straight games with 16 points and 12 rebounds against Florida, the longest double-double streak for an Ole Miss player since Nikki Byrd in 2011 and was the longest double-double streak in Faleru's career.
- A'Queen Hayes posted her first career double-double against Florida with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Her 15 points tied her career high and the 10 rebounds was a new career high.
- The two Ole Miss double-doubles against Florida marked the first time Ole Miss has had two double-doubles since the Baylor game in 2013-14
- Gracie Frizzell, Ole Miss' resident sharp shooter, set a new single-game and Tad Smith record with a career-best eight three-pointers in Ole Miss' win over Alabama. Frizzell's eight three-pointers is the most in the SEC to date and was three off the SEC single-game record. Frizzell set career-highs in points (24), three-point FG's (8) and extended her consecutive games with a three-pointer to eight straight games.
- As a squad, Ole Miss posted a season-high 10 triples, the most since knocking down 11 against Missouri in the SEC opener in 2013-14.
- Ole Miss posted a 1-1 mark last week to open SEC play after a loss at Kentucky Tuesday and a win over South Carolina Saturday at home.
- Junior guard Stefan Moody scored 25 points and senior guard Jarvis Summers added 23 for the Rebels, who outscored Kentucky 30-26 in the paint and controlled the boards for much of the game, before falling to No. 1 Kentucky 89-86 in overtime.
- Summers led all scorers with 20 points, while Moody added 16 points, all in the second half, as Ole Miss rolled over South Carolina 65-49.
- For Summers, it was his third 20-point game in his last four games, his team-leading sixth 20-point game of the season.
- The Rebels shot 41 percent from the floor, but they were 7-of-14 from 3-point range and 18-of-22 from the free-throw line and committed just 10 turnovers.
- Defensively, the Rebels held South Carolina (9-5, 0-2 SEC) to a season-low 49 points and forced 15 turnovers, turning them into 17 points.
- Ole Miss continues to lead the nation in free throw percentage, hitting .791 of its attempts.
Track & Field
- Sophomore Jalen Miller clocked the world's two fastest 60-meter times in 2015 to lead Ole Miss in a dominating season opener at the Gene Edmonds Invite in West Lafayette, Indiana, on Saturday.
- After running a 6.57 in the prelims, Miller clocked a 6.56 in the final to claim the world's fastest time this year by five hundredths of a second. He set a personal best that is just one hundredth of a second off Mike Granger's school record and also established a meet and facility record at Purdue's indoor track.
- All told, the Rebels won nine events and broke two school records in addition to Miller's sensational short sprinting.
- The Rebel men won all but three events in which they competed and claimed victory in every individual running event in which they lined up an athlete.
- Senior Dameon Morgan established a school record in the men's 600 meters with his time of 1:18.48, breaking Thomas Johnson's record that had stood since 1991.
- In her first race in the Red and Blue, freshman Brooke Feldmeier surged past some high-level competitors to win the women's 600 in a school-record time of 1:28.42, which leads the nation this year. The previous record of 1:29.63 was set by Sofie Persson in 2011.
- After the opening weekend of 2015 competition, the following men rank top 10 in the NCAA: Miller (1st in 60m, 6.56), Darryl Brown (9th in 200m, 21.42), Robert Semien (7th in 60mH, 7.90) and Phillip Young (3rd in TJ, 51-0.75).
- The Rebels began the spring season at the Florida Gulf Coast University Invitational this past weekend and picked up 23 wins in singles and doubles against TCU, Rice and FGCU.
- Senior William Kallberg and freshman Gustav Hansson finished 5-1 in doubles, including a win over the No. 15 ranked team in the country. They are now 8-2 on the year.
- Junior Stefan Lindmark and sophomore Ricardo Jorge also posted a big win in doubles, defeating the No. 20 ranked team in the nation.
- The Rebels got some big news this past week off the court, as reigning SEC Player of the Week Nik Scholtz announced he is returning for his senior season. The three-time All-American will join the team when school starts and will seek to become the first four-time All-American in the history of the program.
The Ole Miss men's basketball team opened SEC play, while the Ole Miss women's basketball team continued SEC play, as we enter the heart of college basketball season. Over the weekend, the men's and women's teams posted wire-to-wire wins on back-to-back days. After the conclusion of NFL Divisional Round, the Rebels are guaranteed to have a representative in Super Bowl XLIX. Here are some thoughts and opinions on the week that was:
- The Ole Miss men's basketball team welcomed five newcomers, including two fifth-year transfers and two junior college transfer, and it's been a process for the team learning to play together. After an up-and-down nonconference slate, the Rebels played No. 1 Kentucky to overtime on the road and then notched a wire-to-wire 65-49 win over South Carolina to open SEC play.
"With us, every player has a strength and a weakness and what I'm trying to do is have combinations to cover ourselves, and I think we're getting better at that," head coach Kennedy said.
"It's a process," junior guard Stefan Moody said. "You can't just throw a bunch of guys together and expect them to mesh automatically. It's a process. It's going to take a little while and we're figuring it out."
- Ole Miss did not get the result it wanted on the road at No. 1 Kentucky, but the Rebels played perhaps their best game of the season, and if they play like that the rest of the way, they have a chance to play meaningful basketball come March. Ole Miss shot 49 percent from the field, including 9-of-17 from 3-point range, and scored 86 points, all season highs for Kentucky opponents.
"It doesn't really get any worse than that, especially when you have a chance to beat the No. 1 team in the country," said junior guard Stefan Moody, who led the Rebels with 25 points before cramping up in overtime. "It's a part of life. You have to take it how you got it. We lost by a few points. It was a confidence booster coming into this game (against South Carolina) and in games ahead. We went toe to toe with (Kentucky). It proved we can go toe to toe with anybody."
- In case you missed it, here's a vine of a highlight-reel dunk by Aaron Jones against No. 1 Kentucky, which earned him top-play honors on Fox Sports Live. (H/T @ColeMissSports)
- After winning 12 of its first 13 games, all in the nonconference slate, by double digits, No. 1 Kentucky has been taken to overtime in back-to-back games, first at home against Ole Miss and then on the road against Texas A&M. Speaking to the way No. 1 Kentucky played in each of the two games, Ole Miss took a better shot, and it came on the Wildcats' home floor. Against Ole Miss, Kentucky shot 42 percent from the field, including 11-of-20 from 3-point range, and went 28-of-40 from the free-throw line. Against Texas A&M, Kentucky shot 28 percent from the field, including 9-of-28 from 3-point range, and went 25-of-35 from the free-throw line.
"I told them, the standard has been changed," Kennedy said. "Through 13 games, we've seen some high points and low points. And then we went into Rupp Arena, in that environment. The only thing that bothered me about the commentary afterwards was a lot of people saying that Kentucky didn't play well. Kentucky played well. We took their best shot. My hope was that our guys saw that this is the new standard, and this is what we are capable of doing, if we take the right approach. If we take the right approach, this team has a chance."
- Watching Ole Miss on film, South Carolina head coach Frank Martin said it was easy to spot their progress through 15 games this season, pointing to the Rebels' nonconference wins over Oregon and Cincinnati, as well as the way they played Kentucky.
"They're athletic," Martin said. "They're seniors. They stay the course. They don't whine and pout. They don't roll their eyes. They play. Moody has given them an unbelievable presence to go with those other guys. Andy's got his guys playing well."
- After a 1-1 start to SEC play, the Ole Miss men has a crucial four-game stretch ahead, all against teams ranked in the RPI top 80: vs. LSU (No. 43), at Arkansas (No 14), at Georgia (No. 38) and vs. Florida (No. 79).
- With wins over Florida and Alabama this week, the Ole Miss women's basketball won back-to-back regular-season SEC games for the first time since the 2011-12, improving to 13-4 overall and 3-1 in SEC play. The 13-4 start is the best since the 2006-07 season, when the Rebels finished 24-11 and made a run to the Elite Eight.
- "We said before the SEC started, when we were 10-3, that five more wins gets us to the WNIT," head coach Matt Insell said. "We said eight more wins gets us to the NCAA Tournament. I asked them what they wanted, and they said they wanted the NCAA Tournament, so they're fighting every day to get to that eight-win mark because when you get to that eight-win mark in this league in women's basketball, I can't name a team that didn't make the NCAA Tournament after getting eight wins in this league."
- One of the"next four teams" out in the first Bracketology projection from ESPN.com women's basketball Bracketologist Charlie Creme, the Ole Miss women also have a crucial stretch ahead, starting with a home game against No. 19 Georgia on Thursday, followed by a road game at No. 8 Texas A&M, followed by a rivalry game at home against No. 14 Mississippi State.
"Georgia is coming in here, and they're ranked in the top 20 in the country, and you get a chance to get them on your home court, and you get a chance when you have a lot of momentum going within your team and your team is playing well," Insell said. "It's a huge game. If we want to get to the NCAA Tournament, we have to win a couple of those games. This week, we have a chance to play two teams this week to see where we're at and see where we're going."
- The Ole Miss men's tennis team netted a big win off the court with Nik Scholtz's Twitter announcement that he would return for his senior season. The Rebels began the 2015 season this past weekend with singles and doubles matches at the Florida Gulf Coast Invitational. They play their first dual match of the season on Friday at UCF, before starting play at the ITA Kickoff Weekend on Saturday, Jan. 24.
- Five former Ole Miss football players have been invited to play in college football postseason all-star games, headlined by Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt, who will play in the Senior Bowl on Jan. 24. Serderius Bryant played in the Medal of Honor Bowl this past weekend, totaling three tackles and two tackles for loss.
- With Brandon Bolden (New England Patriots) and Donte Moncrief (Indianapolis Colts) both advancing to the AFC Championship, Ole Miss is guaranteed to have a former player in Super Bowl XLIX. It will be the 20th Super Bowl featuring a former Ole Miss player, and whether it's Bolden or Moncrief, Ole Miss have its 23rd different former player participate in a Super Bowl.
Ole Miss looks to reverse history, as the Rebels (9-4) travel to No. 1 Kentucky tonight (6 p.m., SEC Network), the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
Ole Miss is 0-15 all-time against the nation's top ranked team, last playing No. 1 Kentucky in 2012. Kentucky is 102-13 all-time against Ole Miss, including 48-2 in games played in Lexington. The Rebels have one win all-time at Rupp Arena, coming in 1998.
"Excited to get the SEC schedule under way, and we obviously do it in grand fashion in Rupp Arena tomorrow night," said head coach Andy Kennedy on the SEC teleconference Monday. "So I know our guys will be excited about the opportunity, playing in the most storied venue in all of college basketball, against arguably the best team in college basketball. So I know our guys will be looking forward to the opportunity."
The Wildcats are a perfect 13-0, as they pursue the first undefeated season in college basketball since the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers, a team that included Tom Abernathy, the father of Todd Abernethy, the coordinator of recruiting development and acting assistant coach.
By defeating Louisville by eight points, 58-50, Kentucky's school-record run of consecutive double-digits to begin the season ended at 12, a run that included double-digit wins over No. 5 Kansas, No. 25 Providence, No. 6 Texas and No. 18 North Carolina.
"Cal doesn't get the credit he deserves for the job he does," said South Carolina head coach Frank Martin on the SEC teleconference Monday. "I watched them the other day. They're magnificent. They're defending as well as any team in the country, and as well as any team I've seen in a long time."
Their defense, Kennedy said, is what gives gives them an opportunity an opportunity to undefeated this season. Kentucky leads the nation in scoring defense (47.8 ppg), field goal percentage defense (.297) and blocked shots (8.2/game). The Wildcats also lead the SEC and ranks seventh nationally in 3-point field goal percentage defense (.267).
"They're a special defensive team," Kennedy said. I've certainly watched them casually when I could throughout the course of the season, and then as we gear up for them in preparation. That is what gives them an opportunity to do what I know is a topic of conversation not only in Kentucky but throughout the country: Can this team go through the regular season undefeated?
"It'll be a monumental challenge, obviously, but defensively is the reason that I think it's a valid question, simply because they don't give you anything easy, and as a result teams have really struggled to score against them."
Because of their defense, along with their size and length, Kennedy has stressed the importance of making jump shots, and defensively, keeping them off the offensive glass. Kentucky leads the SEC and ranks ninth nationally in rebounding margin (+10.4/game), leading the league in both offensive rebounds (15.2/game) and offensive rebounding percentage (.460).
"We're going to have to make jump shots, which is not easy to do in any venue, much less Rupp," said Kennedy after the win over Austin Peay on Saturday. "Because of their length and ability to alter everything in the paint, you have to make jump shots. Defensively, you have to do an incredible job off the defensive glass. We've improved on our rebounding margin and guys are pursing the ball more consistently. If you allow them to live off the offensive glass, you have no chance."
Kentucky head coach John Calipari, looking at Ole Miss, stressed the importance of defending jump shots, particularly perimeter shots, noting that the Rebels' three leading scorers, all perimeter players -- junior Stefan Moody (13.9 ppg), senior Jarvis Summers (13.3 ppg) and LaDarius White (12.5 ppg) -- account for 52.6 percent of the team's scoring and 53.2 percent of the team's field goal attempts.
"Mississippi is going to shoot 25 threes in this game or maybe more," said Calipari in his media opportunity Monday. "If they make 20, then we lost our first game. They're shooting 25. Their three guards are their leading scorers and take more than 50 percent of their shots.
"They offensive rebound 13 or 14 per game. They're going to play a zone where they're changing defenses. It could confuse us. If they're making shots, then we have to try to drive them off the 3-point line. When you're playing teams that are willing to shoot that many, you just don't know."
SEC Appears Stronger Entering Start of League Play
Looking at the SEC as a whole, all metrics point to a stronger league from top to bottom and perhaps more NCAA Tournament bids for a league that received just three bids last season. And it starts with Kentucky's dominance at the top.
"Kentucky has sort of separated themselves in the nonconference from the rest of the world, not only in our league, but from everybody else's league as well," said Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings on the SEC teleconference Monday. "Our league is deep and I think the conference season will be an absolute grind because there are so many teams that are probably competitive and equal enough that a lot of teams can win on any given night."
The SEC is one of four conferences with five teams in the RPI top 50 and one of three leagues with 10 teams in the RPI top 100. The SEC also has five teams in the top 50 and 11 teams in the top 100, according to KenPom.com. Ole Miss is rated No. 93 and No. 67 in the two metrics, respectively.
ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi released his first full bracket of the season, and it included five SEC teams, and in his conference-by-conference forecast, he forecasts four teams from the SEC to receive an NCAA Tournament bid.
Ole Miss Athletics Week in Review
Dec. 29, 2014-Jan. 5, 2015
- The No. 9 Ole Miss football team finished the 2014 football season with a 9-4 record, its best since 2009, after a 42-3 defeat to No. 6 TCU in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
- The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl was the first of the inaugural New Year's Six bowls that features the top six matchups in college football.
- The loss snapped Ole Miss' school-record streak of six straight bowl wins that was tied with Florida State for longest in the nation.
- Ole Miss finished the season with the nation's top-ranked scoring defense, giving up 16.0 points per outing.
- The Rebels forced four TCU turnovers to run their season total to 32, which ranks top 10 in the nation.
- All-America CB Senquez Golson tied the school record with his 10th interception of the season... His 16 career picks are most among active NCAA players and tied for third-most in Ole Miss history.
- Ole Miss finished the season with 419.1 total offense ypg (5th-best in school history) and 263.6 passing ypg (5th-best in school history).
- Ole Miss posted a 1-1 mark last week, falling by four on the road at Dayton before routing Austin Peay in its non-conference finale.
- Ole Miss will open league play at No. 1 Kentucky Tuesday night. It marks the 13th time in the last 17 years the Rebels have opened conference play on the road. Ole Miss has won its last two SEC openers and is 28-53 all-time in league openers.
- The Rebels will face the nation's No. 1 team for the first time since a 77-62 loss at top-ranked Kentucky on Feb. 18, 2012. Ole Miss is 0-15 all-time against the top-ranked team in the country, including 12 times against the Wildcats.
- Ole Miss leads the nation hitting 78.4 percent of its free throw attempts. The Rebels hit 19-of-21 attempts (.905) against Northern Arizona and have hit 65 of their last 79 from the line (.823).
- Five Ole Miss players are shooting at least 80.0 percent from the line, including junior G Stefan Moody, who leads the SEC and is tied for ninth in the nation shooting 92.2 percent (47-of-51).
- The Ole Miss women's basketball team closed out the non-conference slate with a 79-71 (OT) win over former Rebel Yolanda Moore's Southeastern Louisiana squad.
- The win gave the Rebels a 10-3 mark in the non-conference, the best non-conference record since 2011-12 when the Rebels also went 10-3.
- Playing at home for its SEC opener for the second consecutive season, Ole Miss defeated the Arkansas Razorbacks, 71-57 for its first win in an SEC opener since defeating Vanderbilt at home in the 2010-11 opener.
- The win moved Ole Miss to 7-4 in SEC home openers in the last 10 years. Additionally, the 14-point margin of victory is the largest since defeating Alabama by 14 in the 2009-10 home opener.
- Tia Faleru posted her fourth consecutive double-double with 21 points and 13 rebounds in a 64-58 loss at Kentucky. It's the longest double-double streak of the season and her career.
- Additionally, her 21 points marked her 4th game of 20+ points this season and her 15th career game of 20 or more points. Faleru now has 26 career double-doubles and moved into No. 17 on Ole Miss' all-time scorers list with 1,204 career points.
Observations from the Best Seat in the House is back, having taken a week off for the Christmas holidays and traveled to Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. The football team finished the season in a "New Year's Six" bowl, the men's basketball team closed out non-conference play, the women's basketball team opened Southeastern Conference play and the spring sports draw nearer. Here are some thoughts and opinions on the week that was:
- The Ole Miss football team ran into a buzz saw in No. 6 TCU, a team playing like it was motivated by the College Football Playoff snub and should have been in the four-team playoff. The 42-3 loss to the Horned Frogs marked the first bowl loss under head coach Hugh Freeze and the worst bowl loss in program history.
"TCU is a very good team," Freeze said. "They deserved every mention they got this year to be in the hunt for one of the four. They certainly, rightfully, deserve to be in it with the others.... To pick the four is a very difficult task. They certainly could compete with any of those in it, no question in my mind."
- It's easy for fans to be disappointed by the end of the season, but credit is due to Freeze and the 2014 team, particularly the seniors, many of whom were freshman during a 2-10 season in 2011. They helped lead the program to three straight bowl games for the first time since 1998-2000 and their nine wins are its most in a season since 2009. History will be kind to this team, as the underclassmen on this year's team look to take the program to the next level in the years to come.
"I'm extremely proud of our kids and how they've turned this program, in three short years, to being relevant and competitive. I'm just sick that it wasn't that way for them today," Freeze said.
- Playing in his last collegiate game, senior cornerback Senquez Golson provided a bright spot in the game, as he tied the school record with his 10th interception of the season, the 16th of his career, which is tied for third place in Ole Miss. A projected second-day NFL draft pick, Golson remains undecided on his plans for the spring, whether it's playing baseball or preparing for the NFL Draft.
- He did not want to go out the way he did, saying as much to the media in the postgame press conference, but just as history will be kind to this year's team, it will likely be kind to senior quarterback Bo Wallace. He had his ups and downs, and he would probably be the first to admit that, but he finishes his Ole Miss career with school record for career total offensive yards (10,478), and with 24 wins as the team's stating quarterback, he is tied with Eli Manning as the winningest quarterback in modern Ole Miss history. Among those 24 wins: Three top-10 wins, including No. 1 Alabama, two Egg Bowl wins and two bowl wins.
- Much was made about the SEC's bowl performance and the SEC East's 5-0 record and the SEC West's 2-5 record, headlined by the 0-3 record by SEC West team in the "New Year's Six" bowl games. With that being said, a couple of things to consider: The SEC tied its own record the most conference bowl wins in college football history. When comparing the records of the two divisions, be sure to look at their bowl game opponents, which includes the nation's No. 4, No. 6, No. 12 and No. 18 teams for SEC West teams. Also, should one bowl game carry more weight than the 12-game or 13-game regular season when comparing divisions and conferences?
- Speaking of the "New Year's Six," the new format pulled in historic ratings. The first half of the "New Year's Six" delivered the most-viewed and highest-rated New Year's Eve triple header on an ESPN network on record, including an average of 5,013,000 views and a 3.4 US rating for No. 6 TCU and No. 9 Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl. The semifinals on New Year's Day then delivered the largest two audiences in cable television history and the highest overnight rating for a non-championship game on ESPN and ABC, with a 15.5 rating for No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Florida State in the Rose Bowl and a 15.3 rating for No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. I look forward to seeing the numbers for the College Football Championship on Monday, Jan. 12.
- Looking ahead to next season, Ole Miss will have perhaps its two best offensive players in sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and sophomore offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil coming off season-ending injuries, as Tunsil suffered a broken fibula in the loss to TCU. David Chao, MD, a former NFL head team physician, said on Twitter that type of injury requires surgery, but Tunsil could make a recovery in four-to-six months. Freeze said Treadwell, now out of the boot, will recovered by about the start of spring practice, expecting him to participate in some of spring practice.
- But the biggest question heading into the offseason and the 2015 season? The quarterback position. The Rebels signed the nation's top junior college quarterback in Chad Kelly, and we'll know more about his future with the program in the coming days. And then there's redshirt freshmen Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade, neither of whom has separated from the other through two seasons working behind Bo Wallace. It will be something to watch.
- Other questions heading into the offseason and 2015 season? Who does Freeze hire to replace linebackers coach Tom Allen on his coaching staff? After signing four on junior college national signing day, including the nation's top quarterback, defensive tackle and cornerback, how does Ole Miss finish up its recruiting class on National Signing Day (Feb. 4)? How do Treadwell, Tunsil, among others recover from season-ending injuries? That and more, we'll all have to sit back and watch.
- Speaking of looking ahead to 2015, here's Chase Parham's annual look at 10 dates that are significant for Ole Miss during the next calendar year. A must-read for all Rebel fans, if you haven't already checked it out.
- While in Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, I had the opportunity to visit and tour the College Football Hall of Fame. Wow. If you're a college football fan and haven't yet visited the museum in downtown Atlanta, you need to make plans to do so.
When you walk in, you see a three-story-high wall of helmets representing the 768 teams that play college football at the FBS, FCS, Division II, Division III and NAIA level. When you walk upstairs, you walk through the history of college football, whether it's through exhibitions, many of which are interactive, or through films. And then there's some Ole Miss flavor, from a "Speed Limit 18" sign, to an Archie Manning 1970 magazine cover, to a game ball from the 2011 seven-overtime game against Arkansas, and then the helmet wall, films and interactivity of the exhibits will blow you away.
- As part of bowl week, I also had the opportunity to visit Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite Hospital, shadowing three of team's 21 seniors in Cody Prewitt, Billy Busch and Charlie Scott. It was great to watch the players interact with the patients, sharing stories and brightening their day. It gave you perspective.
Another senior, Lavon Hooks, said it best: "It was a great opportunity getting to hang out with kids that might not get the same opportunities as us. It brightened my day, just being able to give back. I think it brightened their day, too, getting to play and hang out with some people they may see on TV and look up to."
- The Ole Miss men's basketball team had an interesting non-conference, defeating Creighton, Cincinnati away from Oxford, while losing to Charleston Southern and Western Kentucky on their home floor. The Rebels closed out the non-conference slate with a 9-4 record, rolling past Austin Peay 92-63 on Saturday. Ole Miss shot a season-best 54.8 percent from the floor, but head coach Andy Kennedy was most pleased by 23 assists on 34 made field goals.
"There have been a lot of things I was not expecting," said Kennedy of non-conference play. "I felt like the continuity would be a little better because we had more experience. The reality is we are still integrating new guys into the way we do things. It took us a while to figure out who's best with whom. This team needs to share the ball. We have to help each other get shots."
- Preseason All-SEC first team selection Jarvis Summers has come on strong entering the start on SEC play. He has scored in double figures in each of his last three games, including a team-high 18 points in the win over Austin Peay.
"Tonight as we were making that push, he was the guy that was being the player we need him to be," said Kenned of Summers, the Rebels' second-leading scorer. "My hope is he's getting back into a rhythm. He understands the importance that he brings to this team."
- The Rebels open SEC play on Tuesday when they play on the road at No. 1 Kentucky in Rupp Arena. Kennedy and Summers both stressed the importance of making jump shots and keeping the Wildcats off the offensive glass to keep the game close and give themselves a chance at the upset.
- The Ole Miss women's basketball team opened SEC play, defending their home court in a 71-57 win over Arkansas and then playing No. 11 Kentucky to the wire in a 64-58 loss on the road in Lexington. The Rebels led for 25:59 of the game, before a 6-0 run over the final 2:22 sealed the win for the Wildcats. Despite the loss, head coach Matt Insell and his team proved they're going to be a tough out for opponents this season.
- With the turn of the calendar, the start of the spring sports draw nearer, and something is whether three-time All-American and reigning SEC Player of the Year Nik Scholtz elects to return for his senior season in men's tennis. The Caledon, South Africa, native played in various Futures tournament this past summer and fall. With Scholtz, the Rebels would return six of their top seven player from last season, in addition to talented newcomers Gustav Hansson of Sweden and Zvonimir Babic of Croatia.
A couple of dates to watch, as far as a possible return for Scholtz, are Jan. 7, when Ole Miss opens the 2015 season in the Florida Gulf Coast Invitational, Jan. 21, when Ole Miss classes begins, and Jan. 24, when Ole Miss begins play in the ITA Kickoff Weekend.
Three areas to watch as No. 9 Ole Miss plays No. 6 TCU in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, the inaugural "New Year's Six" bowl game.
Containing Boykin, Handling TCU's Tempo
Ole Miss coaches and players have compared TCU junior quarterback Trevone Boykin to former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, two quarterbacks who were each 2-0 against the Rebels in their respective careers.
The Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and fourth-place finisher for the Heisman Trophy, Boykin ranks third nationally in total offense (363.0 ypg) and is also on pace to become just the third quarterback since 2009 to average over 300 yards passing (309.5) and 50 yards rushing (53.5).
"You just have to make sure you prepare on every play because he's always, you know, a broken tackle away or a throw away from a big play so we have to make sure that we're locked in on every snap," graduate student linebacker Deterrian Shackelford said.
The other key to the nation's statistically most improved offense in both total yards and scoring from last season has been tempo. TCU runs 79.9 plays per game, while Ole Miss opponents have averaged just 69.7 plays per game.
"As far as the layoff, I think our intensity has been good here," Freeze said. "I've been pleased with that. I have a concern about just how the conditioning will be when we hit the field against a tempo team like these guys, particularly it's just hard to simulate that over and over again, and particularly the closer you get and we've had a Christmas break and you get here. You certainly want to have fresh legs when the game starts.
"But the energy and the emotion that will be involved when it kicks off will no question have an impact early on with some fatigue issues probably. So we'll have to be smart, how we rotate our kids and I think everybody will regain that shortly into the game."
Young Receivers Called Upon
Sophomore tight end Evan Engram has drawn the most attention, and deservedly so, as Ole Miss will be without their top two receivers against No. 6 TCU, but a trio of young receivers will also have to step up to replace the production and leadership of sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and senior wide receiver Vince Sanders.
"Stepping up is a big thing for us," sophomore wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo said. "We've been instilling that in our heads since Laquon went down. And when Vince went down, we knew we had to compete even more."
An All-America second team and consensus All-SEC first team selection, Engram stepped up with a career-high 176 receiving yards in a win over Mississippi State in the regular-season finale, but against the Horned Frogs, the Rebels will likely also need contributions from some combination of Adeboyejo, junior wide receiver Cody Core, and freshman wide receiver Markell Pack.
"We know we're down some guys, but we have guys that are going to step up and fill that void," senior quarterback Bo Wallace said.
Rebels Ride Walton
Helped by a couple of long runs, Ole Miss had a breakout game on the ground, rushing for 205 yards in a win over Mississippi State in the regular-season finale. Sophomore Jaylen Walton led the way with a career-high 148 yards on 14 carries, including a highlight-reel 91-yard touchdown run.
"We made just a decision, going into the last game, that he's our best option," said Freeze of Walton. "Let's get the ball to 6 and we wanted to get him a certain number of touches and thought he ran extremely physical, made explosive plays, and we always knew he could and we believe the other can too. But we just made a decision that he's our most mature guy. He's had the most experience in our offense. He's good in the pass game. He's good in understanding protections."
Walton emerged as the leader of a crowded backfield, rushing for a career-high 583 yards and averaging a career-best 5.9 yards per carry this season. He also leads the team with seven total touchdowns. Freeze expects more of the same from Walton in the bowl game against No. 6 TCU.
"He produced really, really well," said Freeze of Walton. "We'll do the same tomorrow. I don't know that it's been so much that he's done anything different. I think he's always been that way. It's probably us just making sure he got the number of touches that he got."
Head coach Hugh Freeze has spoken often about the journey, and he called the program's appearance in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, the first of the "New Year's Six" bowls, a validation of their success earlier this season and how far they have come over the last three seasons.
"To be here in year three of our journey, I think, is validation for us," Freeze said. "You guys again that follow me know that I'm a big-picture guy, and I don't make too much of one win or too much of one loss. I don't think I can afford to do that where we are. I just stay on the big picture.
"And again, for us, in three years to have gone to three consecutive bowl games, and this year being a New Year's Six Bowl, I think, is validation enough that we're on the right track and we were very, very competitive."
Freeze's counterpart, TCU head coach Gary Patterson, has been on a similar but longer journey.
Patterson has led the Horned Frogs to eight 10-win seasons during his 14-year tenure that has spanned three conference affiliations, most recently the Big 12 Conference, where they have competed since the 2012 season.
"I have a little bit different philosophy than a lot of people, being at TCU and being outside the circle for many years," Patterson said. "For all the things that had to happen, to just get into a Rose Bowl, where it had to be written in the bylaws that the Pac-10 team had to play for the National Championship. You had to be the highest ranked team, you had to go undefeated, all the things you had to do to get yourself in that point.
"And still I was sitting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Friday night before playing the ball game, knowing if Boise State won, we were going to go undefeated, and we wouldn't play. We would be playing in the Las Vegas Bowl, which would have been fine. For us, we always take a standpoint of understanding. We're very appreciative of the way we get treated, what we're trying to get accomplished and the way our kids should play."
For Patterson and TCU, this is their third BCS-type bowl appearance, but their first as a member of the Big 12, having having appeared in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl and won the 2011 Rose Bowl as a BCS buster and member of the Mountain West Conference.
"This is where you want to be," Patterson said. "It gives you an opportunity to be greater access to get a chance to go play for a National Championship. And so to be honest with you, we probably had a couple teams back in '08 and '10 that probably were better than this team in some ways. They weren't thought of as such, and playing in this league would have probably made a difference."
Friends since they first talked in 2011, shortly after Freeze was named head coach at Arkansas State, their mutual admiration and respect was on display in the joint head coaches press conference, as they interjected and answer each other's questions, trading compliments for one another.
"Let me answer that for him, they're really good," interjected Patterson, referring to the Ole Miss defense. "He's just being nice to me. They played against a guy at Alabama who's really good. He's just being nice. They're really good."
"I should have answered his for him, that tempo offense, I don't know why I voted for tempo," replied Freeze, referring to the TCU offense. "I should have cried out against that stuff, man."
Patterson said both programs have an opportunity to use the matchup, one of only four matchups featuring two top-10 teams, as a springboard going forward to become the programs they want to become.
"I think as a university, as a program, I don't think we've touched the iceberg," Patterson said. "We've only recruited to the Big 12 for two years. So for us to be able to go forward and recruit and do things as we go forward, as we move down the road, I think, is going to be pivotal in how we do things. But I think we're going to just keep getting better players."
"I couldn't be more pleased," Freeze said. "I think I've said it this year. I think we're ahead of schedule and I think our kids will compete. But win or lose, I think validation has been made this year that we're on the right track."
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