South Carolina basketball beat writer David Cloninger looks at every other team in the SEC as the season approaches.
Oct. 31 Alabama
Nov. 1 Arkansas
Nov. 2 Auburn
Nov. 3 Florida
Nov. 4 Georgia
Nov. 5 Kentucky
Nov. 6 LSU
Nov. 7 Mississippi State
Nov. 8 Missouri
Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Andy Kennedy (192-114, 10th year; 212-127, 11th year)
2014-15 record (SEC finish): 21-13 (11-7)
2014-15 postseason: First round, NCAA (after first four)
He’s outta here (senior unless otherwise noted): G Roderick Lawrence (transferred to Campbellsville, 1.7 ppg, 1.3 rpg), G Aaron Jones (3.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg), G M.J. Rhett (7.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg), G Terence Smith (3.9 ppg, 1.2 rpg), G Jarvis Summers (12.0 ppg, 1.8 rpg), G LaDarius White (11.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg), C Dwight Coleby (transferred to Kansas, 5.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg), C John Crnogorac (transferred to Southwest Tennessee Community College, did not play)
He’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): 6-2 G Deandre Burnett (So., transferred from Miami, will not play this year), 6-9 F Tomasz Gielo (Sr., transferred from Liberty), 6-5 G Rasheed Brooks (Jr., transferred from Southwest Texas College), 6-6 F Jake Coddington (Jr., transferred from Three Rivers (Conn.) Community College), 6-4 G Terence Davis, 6-2 G J.T. Escobar, 6-3 G Alex Shepard, 6-2 G Sam Finley (Jr., transferred from Howard College (Texas)), 6-4 G Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey (ineligible for fall due to failed test, will rejoin team in December)
Top returners: 5-11 G Stefan Moody (16.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg), 6-9 F Sebastian Saiz (7.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg), 6-3 G Martavious Newby (4.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg)
Is Stefan Moody the best shooter in the league?
“I like to think so,” Moody said at SEC Tipoff.
The junior-college transfer filled the void left by Marshall Henderson last year, providing the points with none of the headaches. While he got off to a bad start and hit a mere 35.1 percent of his 3s, he had a knack for hitting the big shots and nobody could guard him – Moody’s shooting style, culled from years of being an undersized guard in a man’s league, has the ball coming from behind his head.
Andy Kennedy was quite the artful shooter during his college days and told everyone last year that Moody could be a game-changer. “He’s got a natural fade to his shot, which at 5-foot-10, he needs,” Kennedy said. “Moody is a guy that honestly, his athleticism is what sets his game up, because he’s so explosive.”
The Rebels will need a more consistent Moody after rebuilding the roster following another NCAA tournament season.
Kennedy has been a JUCO gardener of late, and he added three this year plus a senior transfer from Liberty. Tomasz Gielo helps replace some of the bulk in the paint after Dwight Coleby transferred, and while he’s more of a shooter than a banger, he could get some help from returners Anthony Perez and Sebastian Saiz. Those two will be counted on to anchor the post, since there aren’t a lot of other options.
The Rebels will be led by their guards again, Moody drawing the most attention but able to get some help from Martavious Newby. Kennedy signed a fleet of first-year guards and hopes constant rotation during the non-conference season will help them get situated before the SEC season begins.
The league year will be exciting for Ole Miss, since its new arena will finally be ready. The Pavilion at Ole Miss takes over for the decrepit Tad Smith Coliseum (“The Tad Pad”) that gave the Rebels absolutely no Gameday atmosphere. The dank, musty Tad was a home-court advantage (Kennedy said the one thing he hopes to take from it is its plus-80 winning percentage) but anything else, “you can have.”
It’s set to open Jan. 7. Moody and Saiz didn’t have many fond memories of the place – memories, yes, but anything but fond.
“The lights cut off on us twice during a game,” Saiz said with a shake of his head.
It doesn’t appear the light will dim anytime soon for Ole Miss, which is seeking its third NCAA berth in four years.
Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Matt Insell (31-34, third year/overall)
2014-15 record (SEC finish): 19-14 (7-9)
2014-15 postseason: Third round, WNIT
She’s outta here (senior unless otherwise noted): G Amber Singletary (1.3 ppg, 0.9 rpg), F Danielle McCray (7.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg), F Tia Faleru (14.6 ppg, 9.8 rpg), G Gracie Frizzell (quit to enter physical therapy school, 6.4 ppg, 1.7 rpg), G Toree Thompson (transferred to TCU, 6.8 ppg, 1.5 rpg), G Sarah Porter (transferred to UC-Santa Barbara, 1.1 ppg, 0.7 rpg)
She’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): 5-11 G Torri Lewis, 5-8 G Madinah Muhammad, 6-3 F/C Jonell Williams, 6-2 F/C Cecilia Muhate Pena, 6-1 G/F Precious Person (Jr., transferred from Rutgers, sat out last year), 5-8 G Alissa Alston
Top returners: 5-9 G Erika Sisk (9.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg), 5-8 G A’Queen Hayes (7.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg), 5-10 G Shandricka Sessom (5.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg)
Matt Insell continued to display his souped-up plan for immediate winning in Year 2, and it worked as the Rebels reached the WNIT and were picked sixth in preseason voting.
Now comes the hard part – keeping Ole Miss there with an extremely young team.
“I kind of blueprinted out what this process was going to be, and really copied a lot of what Dawn (Staley) has done at South Carolina,” Insell said at SEC Tipoff. “Being able to go to the NIT in Year 2, that was big. We do have nine freshmen or sophomores, but we don’t look at it as a negative.”
Insell’s philosophy was simple – he’ll tell his youngsters that if they play like freshmen, they’ll lose. They have to think and play like an upperclassman.
Problem is, there aren’t that many upperclassmen to learn from, and the schedule offers no warm-ups. Ole Miss was handed a crucible toward achieving that sixth-place pick – the top four teams (by prediction) in the SEC play the Rebels a combined seven times. The home-and-home the Rebels don’t have against one of the four? At Tennessee.
Ole Miss has a solid corps to lean on and added a group of freshmen, also getting Rutgers transfer Precious Person eligible after sitting out last year. The problem is the Rebels lost their heart and soul – Tia Faleru, their best scorer, rebounder and leader.
Insell completely agreed that replacing Faleru is impossible. No one player can bring all that she did. While he’s not worried about the scoring and leadership, her rebounding will have to come from the entire team.
Still, a tiny step back this year wouldn’t be a bad thing. It might even be expected, considering the youth and schedule, although Insell won’t use that as an excuse. He always said he wanted to be in the NCAA tournament within four years, and as he begins Year 3, he darned near made it in Year 2.
Insell has always been around winners. He’s building one at Ole Miss. Don’t be surprised if the Rebels again surprise the league.