Riding a six-game winning streak, Ole Miss hosts No. 24 Arkansas in a battle for sole possession of second place in the SEC standings. The Rebels are looking for its fourth season sweep of Arkansas in the last five attempts, having won 96-82 on Jan. 17 in Fayetteville.
Junior guard Stefan Moody, a Kissimmee, Florida, native, knocked down the game-winning 3-pointer to give Ole Miss a 62-61 win at Florida on Thursday night, extending the winning steak to six games. The win also marked the Rebels' first in Gainesville since 1999 and gave them their first season sweep of the Gators since 1990.
Moody finished with a game-high 18 points on 5-of-10 shooting - including a 4-of-7 mark from 3-point range - while senior guard LaDarius White scored 16 points off the bench. Sophomore forwards Dwight Coleby (11 points, nine rebounds in 24 minutes) and Sebastian Saiz (six points, seven rebounds in 15 minutes) also provided key contributions in the frontcourt.
"We're playing well enough to win," said head coach Andy Kennedy on the SEC teleconference Monday. "I don't think we have not maxed out by any means. We're doing it a different way every game. My group is coming together. We're realizing the approach we have to take to be successful. Guys are giving great effort, and we're making enough plays to find a way to win."
Ole Miss, a team currently projected to be solidly in the field as a No. 8 or No. 9 seed, depending on the projection, looks to move one step closer to the NCAA Tournament with a win over Arkansas, ranked No. 23 in the latest RPI rankings released by the NCAA, which would be the Rebels' second top-25 RPI and fourth top-50 RPI win this season.
For Ole Miss, Saturday marks the back-end of the first of two Thursday-Saturday swings, while Arkansas has two extra days of rest after a 101-87 win at Auburn on Tuesday night.
"The luxury is we have played them before," said Kennedy of Arkansas and the Thursday-Saturday swing in a media opportunity Tuesday. "It's not something we have to ready ourselves for us, other than they're a quality opponent on a quick turn.
"You look at it two ways. The reality is we have more time on the front-end to prepare for Florida, and another day of rest during this time of year, which you can never undervalue. The flip side is you have to turn really quickly and get ready for another quality opponent. Everybody goes through the turn. Such is the life in this day and age of TV."
Ole Miss takes its five-game winning streak on the road at Florida, the team which the Rebels defeated to start the winning streak back on Jan. 24. The Gators have gone 2-2 since the first meeting this season, defeating Alabama and Arkansas, before dropping their last two games on the road at Vanderbilt and at home against No. 1 Kentucky.
Frazier averages a team-high 13.2 points per game and shoots 40.1 percent from 3-point range, which ranks third in the Southeastern Conference. In the first meeting against Ole Miss, Frazier scored a game-high 27 points, knocking down six 3-pointers and going 7-of-7 from the free throw line.
"We had to play the whole second half without him on Saturday (against Kentucky)," said Donovan in his weekly press conference Monday. "I thought our guys competed well. Again, it's not one guy that is going to have to make up for a player like Michael. It will have to be several guys to contribute and help. Hopefully guys like Devin Robinson and (Chris) Chiozza will have more of an opportunity on the perimeter than they had previously because Michael is not playing."
Without Frazier, watching Florida on the tape, Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said they adjusted by spreading the floor and using their quickness, playing two smaller guards for the majority of the game. The big thing, Kennedy said, is it's one less guy to locate, especially when they play zone defense.
On the other sideline, the Rebels' leading scorer, Stefan Moody, a Kissimmee, Florida, native, was held to a season-low six points on 2-of-10 shooting from the floor and 0-of-5 shooting from 3-point range in the first meeting against Florida. Entering this second meeting, Kennedy expects a better approach from Moody, the reigning SEC Player of the Week, coming off a week in which he averaged 17.0 points per game in wins over Texas A&M and Auburn.
"I think his mindset is in a good place right now," Kennedy said. "He's coming off SEC Player of the Week. He's battled through almost everything, whether it's first-half foul trouble and coming through us big in the second half, or making the big play. He's been in hostile environments. I know he will be excited because he's playing in his home state. I'm sure he will have a lot of family and friends there. He's in a better place mentally because he's been productive and his confidence is where we would like to see it."
Ole Miss hasn't won in the O'Connell Center since 1999 and hasn't swept Florida in a season series since 1990, a testament to the quality of teams under Donovan and the frenzied environment the fans create in Gator Alley. Handling the Gators' defensive pressure, which can be dialed up by that environment, Kennedy said will be a one of the keys in the matchup.
"They're going to be all over us," Kennedy said. "We can't have live-ball turnovers. The biggest stat that sticks out to me in this five-game winning streak is we have turned it over less than nine times a game. That's huge and that's another thing we're going to be very conscious of down there on Thursday night. We can't give them opportunities in the open floor by making foolish mistakes. That's how we allowed Auburn to stay in the game."
The much anticipated list of walk-out songs is here. A tradition unlike any other. Click on the song to listen to it. Viewer discretion advised. Songs played in venue will be edited. My personal favorites are "No Diggity" and "Danger Zone."
Ole Miss held its annual media day on Monday inside the Diamond Club at Oxford-Unversity Stadium, ahead of the Rebels' season opener Friday at 4 p.m. against William & Mary, the opening game of a three-game series.
Here are some notes and quotes from the media opportunity with head coach Mike Bianco and selected players, looking at the batting lineup and the pitching staff heading into the start of the 2015 season.
"As we start this spring, I in a way struggled to explain to the team, something different and something exciting for you to write about," Bianco said. "But, it seems that I come back to the same sentence, it seems very similar to last year. What I mean by that is we return some big pieces on the field.
"When you look around the field on Friday, you will see Sikes Orvis, Errol Robinson, J.B. Woodman, Austin Knight, Colby Bortles. These are some guys who certainly played big roles for us last year in getting to the College World Series. And like last year, there is certainly going to be room for some new guys to step in and help us."
Projected Defensive Lineup:
C Austin Knight
1B Sikes Orvis
2B Tate Blackman
3B Colby Bortles
SS Errol Robinson
LF Connor Cloyd/Josh Watkins/Kyle Watson
CF J.B. Woodman
RF Cameron Dishon
Speaking to the batting order, Bianco said Woodman will likely lead off, followed by Robinson, Orvis, Bortles and Henri Lartigue, who will back up Knight at catcher and be a possible designated hitter. After those five in the order, Bianco said a lot of it will be determined by lefty-righty matchups.
More on Austin Knight:
Knight has appeared in 74 games over the last three year, drawing the start in 16 games, including two games behind the plate in the College World Series as senior Will Allen moved to designated hitter due to injury. During his career, Knight has played behind two Johnny Bench Award finalists in Allen and Stuart Turner, who won the award in 2013.
Knight: "I'm very confident going into the season. I'm looking forward to getting out there and competing against somebody else. I got to play behind two very good catchers and very good people (Stuart Turner and Will Allen). Being able to learn from those guys has been great."
Bianco, on Knight: "To catch in our system, every coach on the staff was a catcher, it's tough to catch here. We're very hard on the catchers. There is a high expectation, not only for your performance, but also your leadership, getting the signals, being able to handle the staff, body language and all these other things we talk about. That's one of the reasons why Austin will be starting on Friday night. Not only can he handle it behind the plate and catch the ball and hit for us, but he's our best option as far as leadership and doing all the things we need from that position."
LHP Christian Trent, on Knight: "I was close to him last year, but Will caught the majority of my games. He's going to be fine. He's going to step up and take the place of Will. He has a good arm. He's really good at receiving the ball. As a pitcher, I'm already comfortable with him."
More on Tate Blackman:
Sikes Orvis and Errol Robinson return at their respective spots in the infield. They are joined by Colby Bortles, who played in 40 games, drawing the start in 14 games, nine at designated hitter and five at first baseman, as well as Tate Blackman, the preseason SEC Freshman of the Year by D1Baseball.com, who will start at second base for the Rebels.
Blackman: "It's a blessing to get the opportunity. I came in here as a freshman, trying to work hard on and off the field. My goal was to come in here and making a big impact my freshman year, and hopefully Friday will be a good day for me and for my team."
Bianco, on Blackman: "We think he is our best option at second. We saw a kid that didn't play like a freshman, not just with his ability, but with the way he carries himself. Tate looks like the guy that is most ready to play. He is an outstanding hitter, runs well and is a good defender. I am excited about all of the freshman.
Orvis, on Blackman: "He has a lot of talent, a lot of power, a lot of juice, and he's not afraid to mess up. He gets right in there. He's a hard-nosed player. He's going to be really good. The game speeds up on him as it does for all freshmen, but he has all the confidence in the world in himself, so he'll be fine."
More on the corner outfielders:
J.B. Woodman, the Rebels' leading returning hitter by batting average (.298), returns to the outfield, as he moves to center field, having played mostly right field and designated hitter this past season. Cameron Dishon will step into a bigger role as the start right fielder, having played mostly as a pinch runner and defensive replacement over the last two years.
At the other corner outfield spot, what Bianco called the big question mark, as they open the season, Bianco said they will probably play a lot of guys to start with, mentioning junior college transfers Connor Cloyd and Josh Watkins, as well as freshman Kyle Watson by name. Another freshman, Will Golsan, might also figure in the mix.
Bianco, on left field: "I don't know if you need to have two games in a row or three games in a row," Bianco said. I don't know if there's a number. It's more feel. The goal over the first four weeks is to find the best lineup by the time we get to LSU on the opening weekend of SEC play. One of those guys can DH, somebody can play left, one of the other outfielders could sit a game and we can play two of those guys, so a lot of it just depends."
The Pitching Staff:
"On the mound, we are a little different than last year in the sense that last year at this time I think that was the big talk and most of the questions in the preseason press conference were about the pitching and the starting pitching, maybe for the lack of experience in the projected starters," Bianco said.
"This year we return two of the SEC starters (Christian Trent and Sam Smith) from last year, along with some guys who have tons of experience like Scott Weathersby, Wyatt Short and Matt Denny. These are guys who gained some valuable experience for us last year."
Friday: LHP Christian Trent
Saturday: RHP Sam Smith
Sunday: RHP Brady Bramlett
Trent, on the move from Saturday starter to Friday starter: "My routine is not going to change. You're still coming to the field and do everything pregame I did last year. The role is different. Pitching on Saturday, the mindset was to win the series or push the series to a third game. I like the role of Friday because you can start the series off with a win and give your team a chance to get ahead in the series early."
More on Bramlett and Johnson:
Earlier in the spring, Bianco said Sean Johnson, a 6-foot-7 right-hander from the junior college ranks, would be a weekend, but he's been dealing with tendinitis and will be limited to bullpen work in the first weekend. In his place, Smith will move up to Saturday, and Bramlett will get the start on Sunday. Bramlett, himself, missed the last part of the 2013 season and the entire 2014 season due to recovery from a torn labrum.
Bianco, on Bramlett: "You don't know when they come off an injury where they are going to be or how they are going to be that first year back. When they are released and able to pitch you have to see how they are.
"Brady had a really good fall. Once we got back, his three starts were probably better than any of the starters. He was pretty spotless here this January and early February. We are excited. He is a guy when we recruited him a couple years ago we knew would have a big time fastball. His slider keep coming, and he has improved his change-up. We really think he is going to have a big year."
Bianco, on Johnson: "We mentioned earlier to some of you that Sean Johnson would be a weekend starter. He came up a few days before our first intersquad game with some tendonitis in his shoulder. He is fine and he threw a bullpen on Friday. Sean will throw another bullpen tomorrow. He will not pitch in the first weekend, he just isn't in shape enough to start and log that many innings. Look for him to, at some point, get back into that starting role."
More on the bullpen:
After the graduation of Brett Huber two seasons ago, the program's all-time saves leader with 38, five different players recorded saves for the Rebels this past season, two of whom return in left-hander Wyatt Short and right-hander Scott Weathersby. Bianco also mentioned left-hander Matt Denny and right-hander Will Stokes, a freshman, as arms out of the bullpen.
As far as the closer situation, Bianco said it will be a combination of guys, at least to start the season, similar to last season.
More from Bianco: "At the beginning, we'll go with a handful of guys and see if somebody emerges. Last year, we tried to force that a little bit. I think that guy has to just emerge. If that's the case after a certain period of time, if there's one guy we are better if he's pitching at the end of the game, then certainly we will do that.
"We have shown an ability to do that in the past, when you look back at guys like Brett Huber, Jake Morgan, Scott Bittle or Stephen Head. If not, you can certainly win the other way, where you put the best guy out there on that particular day, much like we did last year, especially at the end of the year."
- Ole Miss sweep a pair of games last week against Texas A&M and at Auburn to extend its conference winning streak to five games. T
- This is the sixth winning streak of four games or better against SEC teams under head coach Andy Kennedy. The Rebels recorded just 12 such winning streaks in the 71 seasons before Kennedy's arrival.
- Stefan Moody earned SEC Player of the Week honors after averaging 17.0 points, 4.5 assists, 2.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals in leading the Rebels to wins over Texas A&M and Auburn.
- Moody scored a game-high 19 points, as the Rebels defeated Texas A&M 69-59 to move into a three-way tie for second place in the SEC standings at the halfway mark of league play.
- Defensively, the Rebels held Texas A&M to 38.6 percent (22-of-57) shooting and forced 16 turnovers. They also limited the Aggies' two leading scorers, Jalen Jones and Danuel House, who each averaged 14.2 points per game, to a combined 14 points on 5-of-19 shooting.
- LaDarius White scored 20 points and Stefan Moody had 15 to lead Ole Miss to an 86-79 victory over Auburn on Saturday night. White made all five shots and scored 12 points in the second half. Jarvis Summers added 13 points while Sebastian Saiz scored 11 and Anthony Perez had 10.
- After a 28-of-38 performance at the line Saturday, the Rebels fell to second in the nation with a 79.5 free throw percentage.
- No. 24 ranked Ole Miss went on the road last weekend at picked up two wins, defeating No. 29 Texas Tech 4-2 and No. 32 Rice 5-2. It marked the team's first wins in Lubbock as they improved to 6-1 overall.
- The Rebels are off to their best start since 2010 when they started 7-1.
- Senior Julia Jones, ranked No. 20 in the nation, won both her matches to improve to 17-3 overall, 7-0 at No. 1 singles. She has won seven in a row and earned her 10th ranked win of the year, defeating Rice's 24th-ranked Natalie Beazant in three sets.
- The senior duo of Erin Stephens and Iris Verboven improved to 10-5 overall and 3-1 at No. 1 doubles.
- Ole Miss opened the season at the Kajikawa Classic over the weekend, posting a 3-3 record in the opening weekend of play.
- Sophomore OF Miranda Strother led the Rebels at the plate, hitting at a .500 clip with four RBI - including the game-winner against Western Michigan
- Four Rebels are hitting above the .350 mark on the young season - including a freshman and two sophomores
- Ole Miss enters the week with a 14-9, 4-6 SEC record after dropping a heartbreaker 58-54 to Vanderbilt in Nashville in its lone contest last week. The Rebels have now dropped five straight after opening the SEC slate with a 4-1 record.
- Tia Faleru posted her ninth double-double of the season with a game-best 23 points and 13 rebounds. It was her first double-double since 11 points and 12 rebounds against Texas A&M on Jan. 18.
- Faleru's 23 points was also her first 20 point outing since scoring 21 points against Kentucky on Jan. 4. It was also Ole Miss first game with a 20-point scorer since Gracie Frizzell scored 24 against Alabama on Jan. 11.
- Faleru is now 29 rebounds shy of 800 career rebounds. She is poised to become the seventh player In program history with 1,000 career points and 800 rebounds and the first since Armintie Price (Herrrington) from 2003-07.
- Additionally, Faleru is just six assists away from her 100th assist and will become one of four players in program history with 1,000 points, 800 rebounds, 150 steals and 100 assists.
- Ole Miss opened the spring season at the Lady Bulldog Invitational hosted by Georgia. Ole Miss sent Abby Newton, Kaitlin Voll and Sofia Idoyaga to the 36-hole one-day tournament.
- Sofia Idoyaga was the top Ole Miss player with a two-round score of 163 (81-82--163).
- Ole Miss will host the Ole Miss Individual on Feb. 21 at the Oxford Country Club and will open the season in earnest at the Hurricane Invitational March 2-4 in Miami, Fla.
- No. 17 Ole Miss lost a narrow match to No. 13 Akron 4601-4591. The Rebels trailed by four after smallbore, but couldn't quite make up the difference in air rifle.
- Sophomore Alison Weisz posted a team-leading 586 in air rifle, while Jessica Haig shot a 571 to lead the Rebels in smallbore.
National Signing Day has come and gone, the Mike Smith Era began in earnest, and the men's basketball team has run its winning streak to five games, its longest win streak since the 2012-13, when the Rebels won the SEC Tournament Championship and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Here are some thoughts and opinions on the week that was:
- Head coach Hugh Freeze and his staff won some and lost some on National Signing Day, as they put together a 22-member class, ranked as high as No. 15 in the nation (247Sports.com), and as low as No. 21 in the nation (RIvals.com). The class included 18 players rated a four-star prospect or higher by at least one recruiting service, the most in program history, including offensive lineman Javon Patterson and wide receiver DaMarkus Lodge, the seventh and eighth five-star prospect signed under Freeze
"You lose some battles when you are battling for some of the nation's best," Freeze said. "Every school does. We had a few of those, but we also won many, many battles for kids who really wanted to be at Ole Miss and this program representing this great university. I'm excited to get to work with them."
- Among the battles won were the last three players signed in Lodge, who announced his college decision live on ESPNU, choosing the Rebels over Texas and Texas A&M, defensive lineman Austrian Robinson, who chose them over Maryland, and wide receiver Van Jefferson, the son of 13-year NFL veteran Shawn Jefferson, who chose them over Georgia, Michigan and Oklahoma, as well as linebacker Shawn Curtis, who flipped his commitment from Pittsburgh.
- Speaking to some of the recruiting battles lost, Freeze said he and his staff will revisit the entire recruiting process, including allowing commitments to take other visits, gong through every kid on their board and talking about the outcome, the good and the bad, why it did not their way in the end, and could they have done anything different. On a related note, looking ahead to 2016, Freeze said of addressing needs on the offensive line, defensive line and linebacker with mid-year signees, whether it's JUCO or high school players.
- One of the more underrated aspects of the 2015 signing class are the five mid-year enrollees, a group that includes the top junior college quarterback (Chad Kelly), defensive lineman (D.J. Jones) and cornerback (Tony Bridges). All three players, as well as junior college linebacker Terry Caldwell and early enrollee Javon Patterson are expected to feature prominently in spring practice and push for playing time come the fall.
- In case you missed it, here's a National Signing Day link roundup of videos and stories related to the signing class as a whole and videos and stories related to individual signees.
- The men's basketball team extended its winning streak to five games, defeating Texas A&M 69-59 Wednesday night, its third top-50 RPI win of the season, and then going on the road and defeating Auburn 86-79, moving to 3-2 in SEC road games this season. With the wins, the Rebels remain in a three-way tie for second place in the SEC standings and moved up to No. 37 in the latest RPI rankings released by the NCAA.
- The story against Texas A&M was a locked-in defensive effort, holding the Aggies' two leading scorers, Jalen Jones and Danuel House, to a combined 14 points on 5-of-19 shooting, and two key 3-point plays by LaDarius White and M.J. Rhett to push the lead to 59-50 with 6:26 left.
- LaDarius White led the way with 20 points, making big play after big play, but it was a team effort throughout the lineup, as five Rebels finished in double figures in the win over Auburn. The nation's top free-throw shooting team, the Rebels closed out the game from the line, going 10-of-12 in the final 1:28 to finish 28-of-38 for the game.
"Ole Miss is really comfortable with their nine players," Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. "That's what makes them a really good and a contender is that they don't drop off at all when they go to their bench."
- Watching the Ole Miss-Auburn game on television, you could sense the energy in Auburn Arena, whether it was the memories of the Marshall Henderson jersey-pop, or the culture change under first-year head coach Bruce Pearl. The Pavilion at Ole Miss, set to open next season, will have a similar design and capacity, so fans watching the game got a taste of what the game day atmosphere might be like next season.
- Looking ahead, the Rebels have their first of two Thursday-Saturday swings, traveling to Florida on Thursday and playing host to Arkansas on Saturday. The Gators are ranked No. 67 in the latest RPI rankings and No. 35 in the latest KenPom.com ratings, while the Razorbacks are ranked No. 25 in the RPI and No. 31 in KenPom.
- The women's basketball team, looking for its first win at Vanderbilt since Jan. 8, 1987, led for 27:00, leading by as many as 16 early in the second half, but the Rebels were unable to overcome 42 second-half points from the Commodores in a 58-54 loss on Thursday night.
- Ole Miss, now 14-9 overall and 4-6 in SEC play, has six regular season remaining, starting with a home game against No. 6 Tennessee on Thursday. Head coach Matt Insell has said his team likely needs to get to at least eight SEC wins to garner NCAA Tournament consideration, so the Rebels likely need at least a split of the final six regular season games.
- The Ole Miss softball team kicked off the Mike Smith Era with six games in four days at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Arizona, going 3-3 with wins over San Jose State, Fresno State and Western Michigan. The Rebels are on the road for five games in three days next weekend, before returning home for the Red and Blue Classic (Feb. 20-22), playing host to UT-Martin, Nebraska-Omaha, Southern Illinois and Middle Tennessee State.
- The Ole Miss baseball team opens the 2015 season next weekend with a three-game home series against William & Mary, starting with the series opener Friday at 4 p.m. The Ole Miss baseball preseason press conference is set for Monday, so stay tuned for more coverage leading up to the season opener.
- The No. 24 ranked Ole Miss women's tennis picked up a pair of road wins, defeating No. 29 Texas Tech and No. 32 Rice. The Rebels return home for each of their next three matches, starting with Tulane on Friday (2 p.m.), before opening SEC play on Friday, Feb. 27 with a road match at Kentucky.
- The No. 19 ranked Ole Miss men's tennis team was off this past weekend, returning to action Monday for its home opener against Troy, before traveling to Chicago for the ITA National Team Indoor (Feb. 13-16).
The No. 19 ranked Ole Miss men's tennis team is off to a 3-0 start after winning the ITA Kick-Off Weekend in Gainesville, Florida, last weekend with wins over No. 13 Florida and No. 29 South Carolina. The Rebels host Troy on Monday (3 p.m. CT), their first home match, before traveling to the ITA National Team Indoor Final 16, which will be held Feb. 13-16 in Chicago.
The No. 24 ranked Ole Miss women's tennis continues play on the road, traveling to Lubbock, Texas, this weekend to face No. 29 Texas Tech on Friday (5 p.m. CT) and No. 32 Rice on Saturday (Noon CT). The Rebels return home for three matches, starting with Tulane on Friday, Feb. 13 (2 p.m. CT).
Head coach Hugh Freeze and his staff landed a top-15 class for an unprecedented third straight year Wednesday. Including mid-year enrollees, the 22-member class boasts 18 players rated a four-star prospect or higher by at least one recruiting service, the most in program history, including the seventh and eighth five-star prospects signed under Freeze.
As of Thursday morning, the major recruiting service rankings currently list Ole Miss at No. 15 (247Sports.com), No. 16 (Scout.com), No. 17 (247 Composite), No. 19 (ESPN) and No. 21 (Rivals.com).
Here are some National Signing Day links related to the signing class as a whole:
VIDEO: Hugh Freeze on Ole Miss' 2015 recruiting class via CBSSports.com
VIDEO: Mississippi Teams Capitalize on Success via SEC Network
VIDEO: Hugh Freeze on troubled QB Chad Kelly: Players deserve second, third chance via FoxSports.com
VIDEO: Ole Miss' Chris Kiffin talks D-Line, defensive backfield depth in 2015 via Courtney Cronin from the Clarion-Ledger
It's great to be a Rebel fan. Coach Freeze
Has brought back the excitement
Competitiveness we all so desire. The
fan base and even our doubters are
Paying attention. Even the whole country
Sport tLk shows ect. Are taking notice.
After we upset Alabama this weekend
38-27 we will bolt to a top 12 or better
Ranking. Go Rebels
I am not and never have been an Ole Miss fan. I am however a Coach Freeze fan. I like what he represents in today's world of big time sports and what he stands for in leading young men of today into a more responsible role. He is everything that Ole Miss has never had. I am on his band wagon winning or losing.