Rebel reboot: Ole Miss starting over after brutal season
Mississippi started its season with aspirations of returning to the NCAA Tournament.
Instead, the Rebels lost a ton of games and eventually their head coach. Now the program is about to embark on a complete rebuild after a 12-20 season that ended on Wednesday following an 85-84 loss to South Carolina in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
The close loss was indicative of the Rebels’ season. Ole Miss had a decent amount of talent and was usually competitive, but close games rarely went its way. As the losses mounted, longtime coach Andy Kennedy resigned in February and the season continued to slowly spiral down the drain.
Ole Miss lost 11 of its final 12 games.
“We’ve been this close the whole season, so ... the season could have easily been the other way around,” Ole Miss guard Terence Davis said after Wednesday’s loss. “We could have easily been on the other side of the losses.”
Replacing Kennedy won’t be easy. Even though this season ended poorly, he’s the school’s all-time wins leader with 245 victories and was consistently competitive in the SEC with a 102-98 record. The big negative on his resume was that he made just two NCAA Tournament appearances over 12 seasons — in 2013 and 2015.
That was a reasonable level of success when Ole Miss played in Tad Smith Coliseum, which was generally regarded as the worst basketball facility in the SEC. But two years ago the school unveiled The Pavilion — a $100 million facility that’s now one of the league’s best.
Expectations skyrocketed, but the Ole Miss program regressed.
This was supposed to be the season the Rebels made the jump back to the NCAA Tournament. The Rebels had a roster stocked with talented guards, including graduate transfer Markel Crawford, senior Deandre Burnett, junior Terence Davis and sophomore Breein Tyree.
But it became obvious early in the season that the roster wasn’t meshing the way Kennedy envisioned. The Rebels lost three home games during non-conference play to South Dakota State, Virginia Tech and Illinois State before SEC wins over Florida and Alabama gave the program some short-lived hope.
Ole Miss would win just one time — in overtime against Missouri — over the final six weeks of the season. The Rebels often kept games close, but just like in the finale against South Carolina, couldn’t find a way to win.
“It’s one of those deals that we just had to try to rally around each other, stay positive, stay together, and they did a good job of that,” Ole Miss interim coach Tony Madlock said. “So I’m just so proud of those guys.”
The task of finding a new leader falls to Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork. He can certainly sell the program’s beautiful new home building, but the Rebels aren’t exactly known as a basketball powerhouse. Ole Miss has just five NCAA Tournament wins in its history and has never advanced past the Sweet 16.