The way Ole Miss responds to Tuesday night’s 87-74 loss to Kentucky will define the season.
Ole Miss could lose more than its first SEC game. Several media outlets reported Wednesday that sophomore forward Aaron Jones is out for the season after sustaining a torn ACL in Tuesday’s loss to Kentucky, while senior guard Nick Williams is out indefinitely with a foot injury.
With Jones out for the remainder of the season, the Rebels face a massive task to find some depth in the frontcourt. Senior forwards Reggie Buckner and Murphy Holloway have been critical for Ole Miss, combining for nearly 25 points and 18 rebounds per game. But neither should play the entire 40 minutes, and both have had issues with foul trouble.
The two have fouled out a combined five times (Buckner 3, Holloway 2) and average a combined 5.8 fouls per game (Buckner 3.2, Holloway 2.6) this season. The longer they can stay out of foul trouble and on the court, the better Ole Miss will be.
But somebody will have to replace Jones’ 17 minutes per game.
Kennedy has not ruled out junior Demarco Cox, who has been injured two different times this season and hasn’t played since Dec. 23. Parrish Alford of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported Wednesday that Kennedy said that Cox has been cleared for conditioning.
So, Ole Miss will likely rely on two freshmen to step up in the frontcourt. Terry Brutus has played just 47 minutes all season, but he is the only healthy forward on the bench. Anthony Perez, who is 6-foot-9, will also be called upon to play in the frontcourt. Perez has played 115 minutes this season, but the majority of those minutes have been at guard.
Perez could fill a role that plagued Ole Miss when they played Kentucky. Kyle Wiltjer, a forward for the Wildcats, scored 26 points and knocked down five 3-pointers. Perez can knock down the perimeter shot and made a key three in the comeback win over Vanderbilt. He may be able to pose a matchup problem for teams as a forward who can stretch the floor and knock down shots.
Another option for Ole Miss will be to use four guards, but Williams’ injury makes that more difficult. Expect freshman guard Martavious Newby to see more action on the court, as he will be the first wing player off the bench while Williams is sidelined.
Newby has seen 122 minutes this season, and he has been described as an animal on the defensive end by his teammates.
Sophomore guard LaDarius White has been hot as of late, and he will have to continue to be a scoring threat, having scored a combined 39 points in the last two games.
The positions shouldn’t determine who plays. Ole Miss should play its best, most productive players.
Kennedy will have to mix and match the rotation to figure out how to win games. It may be his most crucial task in his time at Ole Miss, as this year’s team remains in position to make the NCAA Tournament.
If junior guard Marshall Henderson is to get the opportunity to shine on the big stage in March, if Holloway, Buckner and Williams are to end their careers with an NCAA tournament appearance and if Kennedy is to make the dance for the first time in his head coaching career, some inexperienced freshmen are going to have step up and make plays.
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