OXFORD, Mississippi — Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy has managed to lead the Rebels to the NCAA Tournament in two of the past three seasons despite a lack of star recruits.
Instead, he's become adept at working the junior college scene and finding veteran transfers who can pick up his system and contribute immediately.
He'll try to work that magic again this season, adding multiple newcomers to fit around senior guard Stefan Moody, who averaged 16.6 points per game last year.
Junior college point guard Sam Finley and forward Tomasz Gielo, a graduate transfer who previously played at Liberty, will supplement a core group of returning players that includes Moody and junior forward Sebastian Saiz.
Kennedy said that the 6-foot-9 Gielo's ability to make 3-pointers helps make this team "much more offensively versatile than any group that I've had." Gielo averaged 12 points per game at Liberty last season in seven games before a stress fracture ended his season.
Ole Miss has been among the league leaders in scoring during most of Kennedy's 10-year tenure in Oxford. Last year was no exception — the Rebels scored 72.6 points per game last season, which ranked fourth in the league.
Kennedy expects much of the same this season. The offense will center on the 5-foot-10 Moody, who scored more than 18 points per game last season in his first season with the Rebels after transferring from a junior college.
Kennedy hopes the team's ability to make outside shots from all five spots on the floor will help offset any size disadvantages.
"I do think this team will be able to play with pace," Kennedy said. "It's going to have to."
Some things to watch for the Ole Miss basketball team this season:
THE GROWTH OF SAIZ: Maybe no player is more important to the Rebels' fortunes this season than junior forward Sebastian Saiz, who averaged 7.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last season. Saiz is expected to be the focal point of the Ole Miss frontcourt this season and coach Andy Kennedy said he's challenged him to become a player who can have a double-double on most nights. Said Kennedy: "He's to the stage where he's about to take that next step. Physically, he's in the best shape of his life."
LIFE WITHOUT JARVIS: Ole Miss will look a little different at point guard this season now that veteran Jarvis Summers is gone. Summers was a four-year starter and steadying influence for the Rebels who averaged 12 points per game last year. Now the Rebels will rely on junior college transfer Sam Finley and freshman J.T. Escobar.
OPENING A NEW HOME: Ole Miss will get a boost midseason when it opens its new basketball arena — The Pavilion at Ole Miss — on Jan. 7 against Alabama. The hope is that the new arena will provide a recruiting boost over Tad Smith Coliseum, which is one of the league's older and non-descript venues.
YEAR 2 FOR MOODY: Ole Miss senior Stefan Moody was one of the league's best newcomers last season, scoring 16.6 points per game and providing plenty of highlight-reel moments thanks to some serious athleticism in his 5-foot-10 body. Kennedy hopes Moody — who is one of several good junior college transfers Kennedy has found during his tenure — can be slightly more efficient in year two. He shot just 38.8 percent from the field last season, though that mark improved to 40.3 percent during conference play.
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