The good folks at RedCupRebellion were kind enough to do a question and answer exchange with us before Cal takes on Ole Miss in the NIT. I was as surprised as you that people from the SEC have access to the internet not to mention being capable of reading and writing! I kid, of course - The RCR guys have a great site and were very amenable to working together with us surfboard-riding hippie-liberals. Check out our answers to their questions over there. Although they might have gotten more publicity lately with their grassroots campaign to instill Admiral Ackbar as their new mascot, rest assured, the Rebels (two NIT Final Fours in the past three years) can play some serious hoops. After the jump, let's take a closer look at the Ole Miss Rebels through the eyes of their fans.
1) Chris Warren seems like the key to Ole Miss's offense. What are his strengths and weaknesses and how should Cal try to slow him down?
Yes, he's absolutely the key to Ole Miss' offense. He's going to "get his" every game – 14 to 20 points. He can shoot from outside, though sometimes he does get streaky. When he's cold, he'll drive the ball into the lane and get hacked to get to the line (93 percent FT shooter). The best thing Cal could do is keep him out of transition and practice a shooter coming off of screens. He'll be one of the quicker guys on the court and will be pushing the ball into transition if it's there and take it in often. Ole Miss also sets up shots for him on the perimeter, so switching off and getting through screens would get hands in his face on shots(though sometimes, even that doesn't work.)
2) Does Ole Miss tend to play better against a zone defense or man-to-man?
I think our offense plays better against man-to-man. We're athletic, but we're not very fundamentally sound in terms of passing and half court offense, so the zone can give us some trouble. Often, though, we are able to shoot teams out of the zone from the perimeter. We've got three or four streaky outside shooters who can hurt you in a zone, but it's not nearly as consistent offensively as going man-to-man.
3) It's cool that you guys picked a bear as your mascot.... Cal folks certainly aren't going to hate on that (though we're not clear on what bears have to do with "Rebels" exactly. The Faulkner story connection seems rather tenuous). How on Earth did you guys pass up on Ackbar?
Ackbar was going to get us in a lawsuit – dang money-hungry George Lucas – so it's fine that a bear will be on the sidelines. I'm still holding out hope for a live bear eventually who can be chained to a post near the endzone that scares the piss out of opponents.
4) Ole Miss seems to be more of an offensive-oriented team, but how would you describe the team's defensive identity?
What can I say about our defense that hasn't already been said about Afghanistan? It's bombed out and depleted. It needs help.
We can give a solid defensive effort usually in five or six minute spurts, but generally we'd prefer to just out-shoot your team. We do have one fantastic shot blocker in Reginald Buckner who has registered almost as many blocks in his two seasons at Ole Miss as any basketballer in the program's history. He usually will foul out when put under consistent driving pressure, however.
5) Are you excited or meh to be in the NIT? How does this fit against your pre season and mid season expectations?
It's meh. Fans thought this would be the year for 23, 24 or more wins with a relatively workable schedule and terrible SEC Western division. By mid-season, we had come to realize the Rebels needed to get to 12 or 13 conference victories to make the NCAA tournament. Turns out even that may not have been enough as Alabama went 12-4 and didn't make it.
We've also been to the NIT Final Four in 2008 and 2010, so this is a little old hat at this point.
6) Who is the #1 Mississippi player on offense Cal fans should worry about?
Chris Warren. He can go for 30+ points and commands our offense completely.
7) Who is the #1 Mississippi player on defense Cal fans should worry about?
Reginald Buckner. Solid 6'10'' shot blocker (95 blocks for the year) who is also pretty fiery in close games and against players who talk smack (see: SEC tournament vs. Kentucky).
8) Teams are in the NIT, because they are flawed in some way. What would you say is Mississippi's largest flaw?
Overall inconsistency on offense and defense would sum up the biggest flaw. We beat a team like Kentucky and then lose to a team like Colorado St. or Auburn or South Carolina.
If we get out to a slow start and aren't close by halftime, the game generally is decided at that point. There's some fight in the team, but it's not a team that will get up from a lot of big punches during a game.
9) Has Rebel Bear made his debut at Ole Miss?
No, not yet, but it's expected to occur sometime this year. We've had one photo online that was snuck out of the athletic department, but the mascot hasn't made an appearance publicly yet.
10) Off topic but curious: did you guys like Ed Orgeron?
We liked the talent he brought in....that's about it. Otherwise, he was a coon-ass, which is a regional term for Louisiana redneck more or less. He would put used coffee grounds in his lip to get a pick me up during practices. He drank a keg of Red Bull every day. He recruited a lot of players who would've been very debilitating to our program because of character/background issues they had and what they did very soon after arriving on campus (one player racked up $600 in parking tickets in a month).
He made us one of the worst programs in the SEC for a few years, but if it wasn't for him, we wouldn't have been able to be the only team to beat Florida and make Tim Tebow cry in 2008. The talent he recruited for the most part was the reason behind that, and it was sweet victory. Though, his most impressive victory was probably a win over Memphis or Mississippi State.
11) Also off-topic, Can you import the pre-game Grove activities to Berkeley for the NIT game?
Eesh, we'll see what we can do. I'll be honest – the word/namesake Berkeley is kind of a four letter word in the South. It's the launching off point of all things liberal, and we're still pretty dang obsessed with Ronald Reagan here – at least that's the perception of the two institutions here.
The Grove is something to be experienced probably, and it can only be done at Ole Miss. Please schedule Cal and we'll be happy to oblige.
One author penned it this way: "You could knock a man out, drag him into the Grove for a Saturday and he would wake up thinking he had died and gone to heaven."
12) How would you guys assess the Andy Kennedy era at Ole Miss after year 5?
It's been disappointing overall. He very quickly elevated the program in year 1 as we tied for the SEC West championship and went to the NIT Final Four. He had one year where nearly every player went down with knee injuries including Warren. Then two more NIT trips with talented squads though no great big men who could make things happen consistently.
We're a better program, and I think there could be good things on the horizon. The ultimate gauge of success is the NCAA tournament, and we've heard Kennedy is going to have a little bit more of a hot seat next year because of how this year turned out.