For Ole Miss basketball, the number 20 has been a charm.
Andy Kennedy became Ole Miss’ 20th basketball coach in 2006 in the middle of the “glory years” of Ole Miss basketball. Rob Evans and Rod Barnes started the modern day Ole Miss basketball program and it didn’t happen until the late 1990’s.
Ole Miss basketball coaching records through the years are rather abysmal if you have never actually looked them up. If you haven’t researched Ole Miss basketball coaches records you will see a whole lot of losing records and a lot of barely break even records. Rod Barnes (141 – 109) at 32 games to the positive over seven years and a 56% win record is the best we have ever had.
So even if Andy Kennedy ended his career at Ole Miss today you are looking at amazing success, relatively. 225 wins in 11 years, a SEC tournament win and a couple of NCAA tournament appearances would easily eclipse anything Ole Miss has had in the past.
But success begets success. The aged CM “Tad” Smith Coliseum was replaced with a massive 90 million dollar, dazzling facility. Andy Kennedy has outlasted a fleet of amazing SEC coaches and is now the gray beard of the bunch. Everything Ole Miss basketball fans and Ole Miss basketball coaches could have wished for is now here.
Andy Kennedy has to be asking himself, ‘What do I do now?’
The Ole Miss basketball program is at the edge of the known world. Ole Miss was in a small little box for so long. It was understood that you can’t recruit at Ole Miss. It was understood that we didn’t have a nice facility. It was understood that we didn’t have a legacy of winning, and that was ok.
But now, Ole Miss basketball is all grown up and about to drive on the interstate for the first time with a learners permit.
Kennedy has the opportunity of a lifetime. There are fewer and fewer excuses available for losing games and more and more advantages to being at Ole Miss
What does the next step look like and how can we get there?
Coach Kennedy is poised to have a breakout season and there are some specific reasons why.
WHY HE WILL
1) Oxford has the luxury of being close to Memphis and Jackson. While Jackson is not quite the deep pool of basketball talent it was in the 80’s and 90’s, there are still a few NBA players to speak of that Ole Miss could get on the court for a year or two. The Memphis metro area is over 1.5 million people and is still a basketball recruiting hotspot.
While several schools fight over Memphis area talent, Ole Miss has an advantage over most of the other SEC schools in proximity, except Kentucky for the very elite players.
2) The Pavilion. I can’t explain how great this arena turned out. Every coach or team that plays here is just amazed, and so are recruits and fans. It’s not too big, seating is not too cramped, restrooms, concessions, all the little extras are just perfect. Just a great facility. The best in the nation right now.
We all know having a new building is nice and is a must, but a building does not recruit. Players don’t care about the building if you can’t win or you don’t have a good fan base or a good coach. The Pavilion will however get some kids to visit that might not have considered Ole Miss in the past.
3) Coach Kennedy’s offense is a national championship offense. Kennedy can run and gun with the best of them. With the right players, Oxford could take over Las Vegas as the new home of the Running Rebels, and in college basketball you don’t need 10 great players, you only really need two or three to make some noise and build that excitement that fuels itself.
His offense has drawn some ire from fans because without very athletic players it is a rather mistake prone offense.
4) Ole Miss owns the state of Mississippi. For the first time in decades, Ole Miss is the premier basketball school in the state. MSU has always had a little more success in the past and typically got a few more kids from Jackson.
With the loss of Coach Stansbury, MSU has been in a multi-year tailspin and has shown no signs of recovering soon. Andy Kennedy has won 6 of the last 7 games over the bulldogs.
Ben Howland is a great recruiter and he will get his share of players; but for the moment, Ole Miss has the upper hand and must take advantage where they can.
WHY HE WON’T
Of course, there are a lot of efforts working against Andy Kennedy and there is no guarantee Ole Miss can capitalize on the momentary advantages.
1) Ole Miss is not a basketball school. I can’t imagine a scenario where Ole Miss fans will embrace basketball over football. Football is king in the SEC and elite national basketball players are going to focus on East coast basketball schools and basketball friendly leagues.
This is a major problem for the SEC, and don’t forget about beating Kentucky. You basically have to be a final four team to win the SEC against Calipari.
2) Emergence of other SEC coaches. Avery Johnson at Alabama, Mike Anderson at Arkansas, Bruce Pearl at Auburn and Ben Howland at MSU are all emerging and could quickly eclipse Andy Kennedy’s opportunity. Kennedy must find a way to stand out and lead the SEC West.
3) Recruiting. While Coach Kennedy has only recently had a basketball court he was willing to show a recruit he hasn’t recruited very well, or well enough. He has lived off juco re-treads, second chance players and international transfers.
Coach Kennedy’s recruiting must take the next step if he expects on-the-court results to take another step. He has a good start on recruiting for 2017 but currently he only has 3 commits and is in the top 40 of recruiting rankings (247 rankings).
This is a great time to be a basketball fan at Ole Miss! The next couple of years will be exciting. We have the best place to watch a game, the best coach we have ever had and next year will possibly be the most talented team Ole Miss has even put on a court.
As fans let’s turn out and do our part and push this program to the top!