An “eclectic mix” of old and new. The longest tenured coach in the SEC. The highest-rated recruiting class in school history. Optimism surrounding Ole Miss basketball peaked before its season ever started. And since November, that optimism has steadily fallen.
Five months later and Ole Miss basketball has fallen completely off the rails. Kennedy is no longer a part of the program, having stepped down Feb. 18. His departure came less than a week after he announced his intent to remain with the team through the season’s end. Apparently the “ominous cloud” hanging over the program was too much for the Ole Miss players to handle.
Tony Madlock, an assistant coach for more than 20 years at various programs across the country, immediately took over and led the Rebels to victory over the Missouri Tigers, before dropping five straight. Vanderbilt, the 13th-best team in the SEC, beat Ole Miss twice in that period. As it stands, the Rebels are the 14th-best – and also the worst – basketball team in the SEC.
It’s March in Oxford, and there is madness – but not the good kind. Ross Bjork, athletics director and Ole Miss demigod, recently began his search for a permanent replacement to fill Kennedy’s spot. The internet exploded when former Ohio State coach Thad Matta was spotted near campus, but those rumors have since died down. Penny Hardaway was floated as a potential hire, but the former NBA All-Star was recently tapped to fill Memphis’ coaching position. Another probable mark in the Ole Miss loss column.
By all accounts, this season was a failure. Ole Miss basketball crumbled. The Rebels have not fallen below a .400 win percentage since 1992. This year, the Rebels finished with a .375 win percentage. When playing Ole Miss, opponents scored an average of 78.1 points per game, coincidentally the highest that number has been since 1992. Clearly, the 1991-92 season was not kind to the Rebels. But that season, one of the worst in school history, got to serve as a ruler against which future seasons could be measured. The 2017-18 season met 92’s mark and then some.
Last season, the Rebels barely missed out on the NCAA Tournament and, instead, made a deep NIT run before bowing out to Georgia Tech. This year, Ole Miss should not make the NIT. The team does not deserve it. If the Rebels somehow qualify, it will be thanks to a favor from the tournament’s selection committee. Or maybe the committee just likes crawfish.
Maybe the players got something out of this season. Maybe leading 2016-17 scorer Deandre Burnett took a step forward, hoping to earn a professional contract following his graduation in May. Nope. Burnett’s points per game dropped from 16.5 to 13.5 this season. Terence Davis, Ole Miss’ best player down the final stretch of 2016-17, regressed, too. His scoring dropped 1.1 points per game, while his turnovers rose to 2.3 per game this season. Kennedy never stopped yelling at Breein Tyree from the sideline, and the sophomore point guard has now made comments suggesting he is open to the possibility of a transfer out of Oxford. Disappointing, for sure, but not surprising.
This season was a spectacular failure for Ole Miss. Anyone who claims otherwise is either on the school’s payroll or hoping to be soon.