Marshall Henderson and the Mississippi Rebels are in Manhattan tonight to take on the Kansas St. Wildcats as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
The boys down at Red Cup Rebellion know their basketball team better than they do the empty bottom of a Budweiser can, and they were kind enough to fill us in on what to expect from the Rebels, including this little gem: Marshall Henderson is the face of that program, and he doesn't even start.
Let's get after it ...
BOTC: Everyone outside of Oxford hears or sees "Ole Miss" and immediately thinks of Marshall. What should people actually think about the program? Or, is he the program?
RCR: Marshall Henderson is, interestingly enough, this team's sixth man right now. He did lead the SEC in scoring last year (~20 points per game), single-handedly won his fair share of games, and drew a lot of attention to himself with his flamboyance, but he is now not much more than a very valuable role-player. He does have a great shot, can score in bunches, and demands attention from opposing defenders, but has been looked over at the shooting guard spot in lieu of Jarvis Summers. Summers is averaging 15.7 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game, and has shown himself to be a more complete overall player than Henderson.
Henderson himself is averaging 15.2 points per game and leads the team with 1.8 steals per game, but he really isn't the linchpin of this team's offense as he was last year.
He is, however much we may love or hate it, the face of this program. Let's be frank: he's a skinny white kid with a criminal past who behaves arrogantly and flamboyantly. He takes a lot of shots, many of which are just absolutely insane, and pitches a fit when he misses or taunts opposing fans when he makes it. He loves the attention, and seems to subsist on it. I, personally, think he's a lot of fun to watch, but I realize that my perspective on the guy is tainted by my very pro-Rebel bias.
BOTC: What style does Ole Miss typically play on both ends of the floor? Is this team built to impose its will, or does it need to rely more on adjusting its style according to the opponent?
RCR: Ole Miss runs a weave and is starting to implement more drive-and-dish looks with the emergence of the diminutive Derrick Millinghaus at the point. The sophomore has gotten much more effective at driving the lane and kicking it back out to open shooters where last year he would simply put up an ill-advised shot. This means that with, among others, Marshall Henderson on the perimeter, this is causing some interesting problems for defenses.
I can't totally speak towards what this particular team does in terms of strategizing for opponents, since the games we have played so far were mostly under unusual circumstances (i.e., neutral site games against GA Tech and Penn State, plus a trip to Coastal Carolina).
Here's what I'm prepared to say about them based on what we've seen: On the low post, things are better than expected. They use angles and play disciplined defense, often ending up in the right spots at the right times to force bad shots. This is important to note because Ole Miss lost its career blocks leader to graduation last year (Reginald Buckner), but the post defense could actually end up a little better than it was then. Or, at the very least, it has already proven to be much deeper.
Starting PF Aaron Jones doesn't rely on big blocks (though he is averaging 3 per game) and instead puts major emphasis on not being caught out of position. Demarco Cox, the starting center, uses angles offensively and comes down with boards on both ends. The guards shoot a lot. That's just the way it is, and no team approach will change that.
It's also important to note that Jones and Cox missed most of last year with injuries, so their emergence as reliable big men is really surprising to a lot of us, simply because we never really got to see them perform last season.
BOTC: How does this team typically play on the road compared to at home? Any noticeable differences?
RCR: Ole Miss under Andy Kennedy has simply played flat basketball on the road. The Rebs have a pretty good home court advantage in Tad Smith Coliseum — our only home loss last year was against Kentucky — but can't get things together on the road.
Kennedy's teams on the road seem to take opponents to the wire and lose a few times a year. Last year, they lost at Texas A&M, Mississippi State, and South Carolina (all teams that they should have handled) by a combined nine points. Those were losses which kept an otherwise worthy postseason team on the bubble until their tournament berth-sealing SEC tournament championship.
I can't pinpoint one thing that this team does wrong on the road. It's just a little bit of everything. They turn the ball over a lot, they get in foul trouble early, they take bad shots. I don't know what it is, I just know that I don't like it.
BOTC: What about K-State should concern Ole Miss most?
RCR: I think the home court advantage and Bruce Weber should concern Ole Miss the most. It's not going to be easy to beat a well-coached team on the road. I also think that if Shane Southwell plays as well as he should, then the Rebels could have a tough time keeping up.
BOTC: What is this team best at? Any key deficiencies?
RCR: If there is one thing I can say this team is great at, it's the three-ball. Ole Miss is shooting .391 on the year from beyond the arc, which leads the Southeastern Conference thus far. Marshall Henderson, Derek Millinghaus, and Jarvis Summers are all capable shooters with great range.
On the other side, Ole Miss is not a good defensive rebounding team. Demarco Cox, Sebastian Saiz, and Aaron Jones are all adept as rebounders on offense, but this team gives opponents far too many second chances.
BOTC: What realistic goals are in front of this year's team? How *big* would a win at K-State be for this group?
RCR: At the beginning of the season, most people felt that a .500 record in SEC play was the most realistic expectation. The departures of Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway, most felt, would be too much to overcome. However, their replacements down low have proven to be capable enough to keep this team competitive. They are far from matching the production of their predecessors, but they're playing better than a lot of us expected.
At this point, I'm saying that Ole Miss is a bubble team, and therefore either a high-seed in the NIT or one of the "last four in" come March.
A win at K State would be absolutely huge for this team and its RPI. This year's schedule is probably as good as any Andy Kennedy has had in Oxford in terms of legitimate out of conference opponents. Ole Miss has already beaten Georgia Tech and Penn State, teams which aren't about to win their respective conferences but will be a plus on this team's RPI, and have Kansas State, Oregon, and Dayton to go. A win against any of those three teams would be a big boost to the program.