Ole Miss hopes added depth leads to NCAA Tournament bid
Mississippi hopes a little more depth, better ballhandling and the addition of a 7-footer will enable the Rebels to earn a trip back to the NCAA Tournament.
Ole Miss has been competitive under coach Andy Kennedy during his previous 11 seasons leading the program. But the Rebels have made the NCAA Tournament just twice — in 2013 and 2015 — and have had to settle for a spot in the National Invitation Tournament.
Last season was one of those years. Ole Miss finished with a 22-14 record and advanced to the NIT quarterfinals before a loss to Georgia Tech ended its run.
The Rebels return a talented core from that team that includes guards Breein Tyree, Deandre Burnett and Terence Davis, along with forwards Marcanvis Hymon and Justas Furmanavicius.
They’ll join with transfers like guard Markel Crawford and center Dominik Olejniczak. The 6-foot-4 Crawford is a fifth-year senior who came from Memphis while the 7-foot Olejniczak is a sophomore who played one season at Drake.
“I think we’re athletic, I think we’re versatile, I think we’ve got a number of interactive pieces,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “Now it’s just a matter of continuing to figure out the best way for us to be successful.”
Now the goal is returning to the NCAA Tournament. The expectations around Ole Miss have been raised over the past few seasons — partly because of the recent success and partly because of a new $100 million arena that opened on campus two years ago.
Davis, who averaged nearly 15 points per game last season, said this team has enough talent to take a step forward and make it to the NCAA Tournament.
“I believe so,” Davis said. “That’s all we talk about every day. Every single day. We talk about tournament and how much better of a season it’s going to be.”
Here are a few more things to watch for the Rebels this season:
A TRUE POINT GUARD: Ole Miss was plagued by turnovers last season — its 14.3 per game ranked 282nd in the country. The Rebels hope that won’t be an issue this season thanks to point guard Breein Tyree. The sophomore was recovering from a knee injury last season, but improved as the season progressed.
REPLACING SAIZ: Ole Miss will be trying to replace the production of Sebastian Saiz, who averaged 15.1 points and 11.4 rebounds per game last season as a senior. Kennedy hopes a combination of Hymon, Olejniczak, Karlis Silins and Bruce Stevens can fill in the gap.
TERRIFIC TERENCE: Davis, a 6-foot-4 junior guard, emerged as arguably the best all-around player for Ole Miss last season. He averaged more than 15 points per game in SEC play despite averaging just 26 minutes on the court. He added 5.3 rebounds and nearly two assists per game.
GETTING TO THE LINE: Burnett, a 6-foot-2 senior guard, was one of the nation’s best at getting to the free throw line and — more importantly — making them. Burnett’s 192 made free throws were among the national leaders as was his 88.1 shooting percentage.
VETERAN KENNEDY: The Ole Miss coach won’t turn 50 until March, but he’s already established himself as the winningest coach in program history. His 234 wins at Ole Miss also rank 18th in SEC history.