This year the SEC is getting rid of its old format of separating the conference's basketball teams into two six-team divisions. It makes a ton of sense since the East has been much stronger than the West the past several years. Point in case: Ole Miss is already the third team from the former SEC West to make an appearance in my preseason rankings and I am not even out of the mid-90s.
Last season the backcourt of Chris Warren and Zach Graham sparked an Ole Miss team that made a trip to the NIT. With that duo moving on in their basketball careers, as well as the transfer of key reserve Trevor Gaskins, the Rebels have some major holes to fill at guard.
Dundrecous Nelson will play a vital role in that makeover. He came on strong as a freshman, starting the final seven games of the season. Nelson ultimately took the starting position from Nick Williams who is the only other returning guard on the roster and likely to return to the starting lineup.
Memphis transfer Jelan Kendrick becomes eligible after the first semester and should immediately end up in the starting lineup. Until he is able to suit up for the Rebels, freshmen wings Ladarius White and Maurice Aniefiok figure to step in right away and log heavy minutes. Fellow newcomers Jamal Jones and Florida A&M transfer Dale Hughes will also try to work into the rotation at off guard while Jarvis Summers will have to acclimate himself at the team's only backup at the point.
The frontcourt features several familiar faces. Terrence Henry is the team's top returning player and a legit 2012 NBA Draft prospect due to his inside/outside game. He will be asked to play a bigger role this season. Reginald Buckner returns in the middle and is already second in school history in blocked shots despite only being a junior. Demarco Cox is a big body who provides some muscle off the bench while Steadman Short adds even more depth up front. Freshman Aaron Jones will likely be the odd man out in the rotation.
Entering his sixth year at Ole Miss, Andy Kennedy's seat is starting to heat up since the Rebels have not been to the NCAA Tournament in a decade. This year's team is a long shot to break that skid, and I would not be surprised if Mississippi is looking for a new head coach at the end of the season.
Player to Watch: Jelan Kendrick, G/F
The former Memphis commit will be the first ever McDonald's All-American to don a Rebel jersey. He has somewhat of a troubled past as he played for several different high school and AAU teams during his teens, stemming from what he admitted were anger issues. Kendrick took a leave of absence last year at Memphis before ultimately choosing to transfer to Ole Miss. The skill level is obviously there. The question is whether Kendrick can control his emotions and make the most of his new opportunity. If so, he will be a great get for Kennedy and provide a huge boost for the Rebels.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/18-21 vs. Marquette, Virginia, TCU, Drexel, Drake, Winthrop, or Norfolk State (Paradise Jam)