Mississippi trades star power for offensive balance
OXFORD, Miss. (AP) Mississippi doesn't have an obvious offensive star for the first time in several seasons.
Rebels' coach Andy Kennedy said that's not necessarily a bad thing, and he hopes a little balance and depth could help lead the program to a third NCAA Tournament in five years.
''When you look at our team, I think we have five, six or - I'm not kidding - seven guys who could average double figures,'' Kennedy said.
It's a vastly different look from the past four seasons, when Ole Miss had some of the league's most prolific scorers. Marshall Henderson scored nearly 20 points per game over a two-year stretch and then came Stefan Moody, who was the SEC's leading scorer with 23.6 points per game last year.
Now the Rebels will have more of an ensemble cast which features returners like Sebastian Saiz, Rasheed Brooks and Marcanvis Hymon and newcomers like Cullen Neal, Justas Furmanivicius and Deandre Burnett.
The 6-foot-9 Saiz is the team's most experienced player, entering his fourth season with the program after averaging 11.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. Kennedy said it's likely he could average double figures in both points and rebounds if healthy.
''He's one of my favorite guys who I have ever had here,'' Kennedy said. ''His energy is always right. He's very positive. He's going to put in his work and he's really evolved offensively.''
A good chunk of the team's perimeter scoring figures to come from Burnett and Neal. The 6-foot-2 Burnett sat out last season after transferring from Miami while the 6-5 Neal is a graduate transfer from New Mexico.
Some other things to know about Ole Miss this season:
BURNETT'S TIME: Burnett's chance to lead a college basketball team has been a long time coming. The 2012 Parade All-American spent a year in prep school before going to Miami. He injured his wrist in 2013 before his freshman season and didn't play his first college game until 2014, when he averaged seven points per game. He decided to transfer to Ole Miss and had to sit out last season because of transfer rules. He'll be a 22-year-old junior this season.
SAIZ BACK AT FULL HEALTH: Saiz returns after battling a scary eye injury last season that resulted in surgery to fix a detached retina. He says the injury has fully healed, though he'll still wear protective goggles during games. Kennedy said Saiz is so effective, because of his 7-foot-6 wingspan which allows him to finish around the basket even though he doesn't possess elite athleticism.
LEAVING HOME: Neal, the New Mexico graduate transfer, will be playing for Kennedy after spending his first three seasons in college playing for his dad Craig Neal. Kennedy said Neal has been ''tremendous. Another very hard worker. I don't pretend to think this is anything like what he's been in in the past because he was in a different system. And he was also in a different system playing for his father. So this is something completely new to him as well.''
OLD MAN KENNEDY: Kennedy is in his 11th season as the Ole Miss basketball coach, making him the longest-tenured basketball coach in the league. The 48-year-old has averaged more than 21 wins per season during his 10 previous seasons, making the NCAA Tournament twice and the NIT five times.
VERSATILE JUSTAS: Kennedy is very high on Furmanivicius, a 6-foot-6 junior who can play both guard and forward. He averaged 12.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per game at Three Rivers (Mo.) C.C. and is a candidate to jump into the Rebels' starting lineup from the first game.
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