South Carolina basketball beat writer David Cloninger looks at every other team in the SEC as the season approaches.
2012-13 record (SEC finish): 27-9, 12-6 (T-2nd) *NCAA second round
Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Andy Kennedy (152-87, eighth year; 172-100, ninth year)
Top returners: G Marshall Henderson (20.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg); G Jarvis Summers (9.1 ppg, 1.8 rpg); G Derrick Millinghaus (5.3 ppg, 1.4 rpg)
Biggest losses: Murphy Holloway (14.5 ppg, 9.7 rpg); Reginald Buckner (9.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg); Nick Williams (8.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg)
The verdict is in, and Ole Miss is happy.
Marshall Henderson, fast-shooting and trash-talking, is back on the team after a summer of good behavior, although he will be playing the world’s largest game of Heavy Heavy Hangs Over Thy Poor Head. His suspension from the team is staggered, leaving the axe poised to chop if he steps out of line one more time. Henderson will miss the Rebels’ season-opener but will then be cleared until the first two SEC games of the season.
It’s a good move from a PR standpoint. The Rebels are sitting him down for two conference games, one of which is the rivalry game at Mississippi State. Since Auburn and MSU are expected to be two of the worst teams in the league this year, the suspension doesn’t seem that drastic; but Ole Miss without Henderson (as was shown in an exhibition against USC Aiken), isn’t exactly a heavy favorite in any game.
It’s clear that Henderson has to be on the team and score his usual 20 points for the Rebels to be successful. They lost the other productive players from an NCAA tournament team. While Ole Miss could have thrown the book at Henderson and sat him down for a number of games up to and including neutral-court affairs against Georgia Tech, St. John’s/Penn State and could have cleared him for a game at Kansas State, it did the smart thing. Even with Henderson, winning those games is going to be a stretch. But now the Rebels look like they’re keeping the leash on Henderson because of the two-game knock during the SEC slate.
Of course, many have asked, and have had the right to ask, why is Henderson even being given that chance? As coach Andy Kennedy confirmed, it seems to be because Henderson was caught with, but never charged with possession of, cocaine and marijuana. The police officer who pulled Henderson over said that the amount was not enough to prosecute. That seems to be the drawing line, since other Ole Miss players have been booted for drug offenses. So Henderson is signing up for random drug testing every day (whether he gets picked to take a screen or not), and Ole Miss is continuing to let him practice.
I see it as a reward scenario. Look, the only reason Kennedy took Henderson, knowing full well of his checkered past, was because he needed to make the NCAA tournament last year. Kennedy had been at Ole Miss six years and hadn’t made it yet – his teams routinely won 20 or more games but low RPIs and only finishing above .500 in the SEC once made him a perennial NIT coach. It was a chopping-block year, and Kennedy and the Rebels nearly went down that path anyway, before reeling off a six-game winning streak when they needed it most (the last two regular-season games and the SEC tournament). There was no way the NCAAs could keep Ole Miss out then, and the Rebels upset Wisconsin in the first round before losing to tournament darling LaSalle.
Armed with a new contract, Kennedy stacked his non-conference schedule with some good teams this year. It’s a curious move considering he only has Henderson returning, and he knew that was always going to be a wild card. But he also signed four freshmen and has a very young team that can learn from playing an aggressive slate.
Henderson saved Kennedy. Now Kennedy is saving Henderson. We’ll see how it works out in the future once Henderson is gone.
2012-13 record (SEC finish): 9-20, 2-14 (T-13th)
Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Matt Insell (First year)
Top returners: G Valencia McFarland (11.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg); F Tia Faleru (11.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg); G Diara Moore (10.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg)
Biggest losses: Courtney Marbra (5.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg); Maggie McFerrin (1.3 ppg, 0.7 rpg); Destini Price (0.0 ppg, 0.3 rpg)
Put it this way – there’s nowhere to go but up.
The Rebels just may have to wait for a while before they can begin that journey.
Following the disaster of last year – voluntarily vacating an SEC tournament appearance due to a looming investigation following this -- Ole Miss hired Matt Insell away from Kentucky’s bench and hopes that he can one day lead this program out of the rubble. The problem that he faces is that any progress he could potentially take this year may eventually get wiped out or overshadowed if the NCAA drops the hammer. It’s like Miami football – do what you can and hope the punishment, when it comes, isn’t too severe.
Insell actually inherits some talent, and if he can get past the specter of the NCAA cloud, perhaps he can do something. What’s favoring him is that the NCAA doesn’t get anything done quickly, and his team doesn’t know right from the start that it’s not going to the postseason. Insell learned under Matthew Mitchell at UK, and Mitchell has placed the Wildcats right up there with Tennessee and Georgia as consistent powers, so perhaps he can pull a .500 or so season this year. That in itself would be a tremendous accomplishment.
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