Mississippi head coach Andy Kennedy gestures during an NCAA college basketball game against South Carolina in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015. (AP Photo/The Oxford Eagle, Bruce Newman)
The Oxford Eagle, Bruce Newman
January 13, 2015

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) Halfway through the season, it's hard to figure out how good the Mississippi Rebels are.

There have been a handful of respectable wins against teams such as Creighton, Oregon and Cincinnati. There have also been some head-scratching home losses to Charleston Southern and Western Kentucky.

Then there was one loss that in some ways felt like a win: Last week's 89-86 overtime setback to No. 1 Kentucky at Rupp Arena that proved the Rebels are able to play with the nation's elite.

Now an important showdown looms when Ole Miss (10-5, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) hosts LSU (12-3, 1-1) on Wednesday at Tad Smith Coliseum.

The Rebels are coming off a relatively easy 65-49 victory over South Carolina on Saturday, which was just four days after the close loss to the top-ranked Wildcats. Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said he's optimistic the Kentucky game - even in defeat - gave his team some confidence.

''My hope was that our guys saw that this is the new standard, and this is what we are capable of doing if we take the right approach,'' Kennedy said. ''If we take the right approach, this team has a chance.''

The Rebels are led by a mix of veterans and newcomers who are still trying to find the right combinations on the court.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in the backcourt, where veteran Jarvis Summers and junior college transfer Stefan Moody are learning to share the ball.

Summers is a below-the-rim scorer who has a diverse mid-range game. Moody stands just 5-foot-10, but has a 40-inch vertical that allows him to dunk with ease and score from inside or outside.

He scored all 16 of his points against South Carolina in the second half and leads the Rebels with 14.8 points per game.

Moody's ability to score in bunches has drawn some comparisons to former Ole Miss star Marshall Henderson, who scored nearly 20 points per game over the previous two seasons with the Rebels.

But unlike Henderson - who was a threat to attempt a 3-pointer at the rim as soon as he crossed the half-court line - Moody is more likely to score his points within the Rebels' offense. His 16 points against South Carolina were scored in efficient fashion on 5 of 8 shooting from the field, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range.

''I just took them as they came,'' Moody said. ''I'm not going to come in and start launching them just because I didn't get to in the first half. I'm going to take them as they come.''

Ole Miss does have at least one elite skill: Free-throw shooting. The Rebels are making 79.1 percent of their attempts from the line, which ranks No. 1 in the country.

Now Ole Miss is looking for continued improvement from the team's big men.

Sophomore Sebastian Saiz is the only consistent threat in the post, averaging 7.3 points and 4.9 rebounds. But others such as M.J. Rhett, Dwight Coleby and Aaron Jones have had good moments, and Kennedy is trying to find the right lineups to maximize their contributions.

''With us, every player has a strength and a weakness,'' Kennedy said. ''I'm trying to have combinations to cover ourselves. We're getting better at that.''


Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP

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