Ole Miss basketball kicks off Friday night when the Rebels host the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns in The Pavilion. The team will push for a return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2014-15 season.
This Ole Miss team’s strength is found in its backcourt, and the guards will show out in full force Friday night. Senior guard Deandre Burnett and junior guard Terence Davis were the Rebels’ leading and third-leading scorers, respectively, last season, and their return should cement a dynamic attacking style for the Rebels. Along with sophomore guard Breein Tyree, who began to show his talent in the latter part of last year, high-level Memphis transfer Markel Crawford and top recruit Devontae Shuler, the impressive guard depth provides a unique set of issues for head coach Andy Kennedy to solve.
“Nine of them are really, really battling to see who can be in the upper end of that rotation, and that’ll all work its way out,” Kennedy said. “I think they’re all versatile, and they’re complements to one another. I don’t think any two players are the same.”
Tyree agreed with Kennedy that players’ specific roles will be decided by their play.
“Roles can change; roles can grow as the season goes on,” Tyree said. “We’ve got a long road ahead of us.”
Friday night is key to starting the Rebels’ season off on the right foot. Louisiana-Lafayette is projected to finish at the top of the Sun Belt Conference after adding transfers from South Carolina, Missouri and USC to replace leading scorer Jay Wright.
“I know they’re going to be prepared, and they’re going to be a team that’s going to do very very well in their league, so we have to be prepared accordingly,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy is conscious of the threat LA-Lafayette can pose to his team, especially this early in the season, and he acknowledged the surprising strength and skill of the slightly smaller school.
“It’s certainly dangerous,” Kennedy said. “We’ve challenged ourselves early, and we’ve got to be ready for it.”
The Rebels return four of five starters from last year’s 22-14 team, and the upperclassman leadership gives the newcomers and younger talent an opportunity to develop and learn as the season progresses.
“I’m a senior on this team and an upperclassman, so I have to lead by example, and that’s (doing whatever) the team needs,” Burnett said.
Players were optimistic about the emotional and mental states of the team headed into the beginning of the season.
“Our chemistry is so high,” Tyree said. “It’s an unselfish group. … I haven’t experienced it yet fully, but I’m looking forward to this year.”
The game against Louisiana-Lafayette begins at 7 p.m. Friday and will be televised on the SEC Network.