INSIDER: Rebels Show Vast Improvement Under Kennedy

By Joey Jones

Ole Miss Athletics Media Relations

 

It was March of 2006, two years ago, and Ole Miss was struggling to find a way to win. After a 3-0 start in Southeastern Conference play, the Rebels had walked off the court with just one win in their final 13 games of the regular season. Then they were handed a 14-point loss by Kentucky in the SEC tournament.

 

It was a low point for a Rebel program that finished with its fourth straight losing season, so the school administration decided to make a change.

 

Enter Andy Kennedy. The young coach had just capped a remarkable 21-13 season as the interim head coach at Cincinnati under less-than-ideal circumstances. A rash of defections and injuries after the departure of Bob Huggins left the Bearcats with just enough players to make a team, much less succeed in the rigorous BIG EAST Conference. But, like he would show in his next two years in Oxford, Kennedy helped his team find a way.

 

And Ole Miss was ready to overcome its recent struggles and get back to the kind of success that saw the program reach six straight postseasons from 1997-2002, including a 2001 berth in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen.

 

But changing the direction of the program wouldn’t come easy. The 2006-07 Rebels featured an unheralded trio of senior guards and an All-SEC center that didn’t perfectly fit Kennedy’s up-tempo style. The “experts” picked Ole Miss to finish last in the SEC West. Of course, that only fueled Kennedy’s group, as the Rebels surged to the Western Division title, a 21-13 record and a berth in the NIT.

 

This year the preseason prognosticators again chose Ole Miss to dwell in the division cellar, pointing out the loss of that great senior-laden backcourt. But the younger, faster Rebels this time rocketed out to a school-record 13-0 start and No. 15 national ranking before finishing with a 24-11 record and the school’s first appearance in the NIT Final Four at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

 

So just two years removed from when a proud Rebel program had sunk to a frustrating low, Kennedy and his staff and players have found a way to win 45 ballgames and claim back-to-back 20-win seasons, the first time in program history for a coach to accomplish such feats in his first two years at the helm.

 

And not only the wins, but the exciting style of play, are bringing fans to Tad Smith Coliseum in droves. The win over 18th-ranked Alabama on Feb. 10, 2007, saw a record Tad Pad crowd of 9,452. Then this season, Ole Miss set school records for average attendance in all games and SEC contests. These crowds have helped the Rebels compile a 32-3 record at home during the last two campaigns.

 

In the last two years, Ole Miss has scored over 100 points three times and dropped 85 or more on the likes of Mississippi State, Clemson, Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Nebraska. This season the Rebels set more than 25 school records in team and individual statistical categories, most notably the team records for points, 3-pointers, rebounds and assists in a season and Chris Warren’s records for most 3-pointers in a season and most points by a freshman in a season.

 

The chart below shows some of the progress the Rebels have made in the last two seasons compared to the previous two:


2004-05 2005-06 2006-07 2007-08
W-L Record 14-17 14-16 21-13 24-11
SEC Record 4-12 4-12 8-8 7-9
SEC Finish T5th West T5th West T1st West 3rd West
Home Record 9-6 11-6 16-1* 16-2
Postseason None None NIT 2nd Round NIT Semifinals*
Points/game 63.8 65.0 73.1 79.5
Assists/game 14.7 13.5 14.1 15.9
Rebounds/game 29.9 33.8 35.8 40.6
3-pointers/game 6.8 6.0 6.8 7.8*
FG percentage 44.8 44.0 44.2 45.9
FT percentage 60.9 63.0 70.3 65.1
Opp. FG percentage 45.7 45.2 44.1 43.2
Avg. home attendance 3,940 3,835 5,406 7,301*
Avg. SEC home attendance 5,525 5,569 8,241 8,994*

* School Record

 

Another strong recruiting class this year will help replace the loss of valuable senior big men Dwayne Curtis, Kenny Williams and Jermey Parnell, as Kennedy continues to build Ole Miss into a championship-caliber program.

 

Fans can’t wait to see what happens next, as visions of former glory return to their minds: the 1981 SEC Tournament championship, the 1999 team earning the first NCAA Tournament victory and the 2001 squad dancing into the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. With the memory of these great moments and a team coming off its best showing ever in the NIT, what great things are in store for 2008-09? Visit Tad Smith Coliseum this fall to find out.


 

 

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