Ole Miss (17-3, 6-1) is ranked No.16 in the nation and is second in the SEC standings. Guard Marshall Henderson is a candidate for not only conference player of the year, but national player of the year. Snoop White has evolved from a moderate backup into a lethal scorer, capable of scoring from anywhere on the floor. You may be wondering, if all of this is true, how can they be at a crossroads? Simple. The injuries of Aaron Jones and Nick Williams.
In the second half of what was already a demoralizing home loss to Kentucky, Ole Miss lost a pair of key reserves. The injuries are deceptively minuscule to some Rebel fans. Jones, aside from his bank-shot-three, is not a real offensive threat and Williams’ presence can be balanced out by the surging White. Those opinions could not be further from the truth.
Jones is a high-energy big man. There has not been a loose ball within a feasible reach of him that he has not pursued with relentless effort. His Pete Rose mentality is a spark of energy and a real boost of inspiration to the rest of the lineup. At 6’9 he is one of the tallest players on the team, and has become a big part of Andy Kennedy’s gameplan. With Demarco Cox unlikely to play again this season, the big men inside have been Reginald Buckner, Murphy Holloway, and Jones. With a lot of attention turned to Holloway on both ends and Buckner’s nack of finding himself in foul trouble, Jones has been a huge asset off the bench.
With his torn ACL, he will not play again this season. That leaves a massive void in the rotation that needs to be filled. Outside of the starting forwards, Holloway and Buckner, and the injured forwards, Cox (a center) and Jones, the only forwards on the roster are freshmen Anthony Perez and Terry Brutus. At 6’9, Perez has the length to play down in the post, but he is predominantly meant for the perimeter. Perez came in as a shooter and has struggled this season getting used to SEC play. That leaves big-bad-Brutus. At 6’6 and 240 Lbs., he is a bruising player who can make up for his lack of length by bullying opponents with his strength. These two will have increased minutes and will have to fill the void of the blocks and rebounds that will be vacated in Jones’ absence.
Williams started for most of the season and has still been a big contributor off the bench. He is out indefinitely with a foot injury, and could miss the remainder of the year as well. Aside from Henderson, he has been the team’s biggest three-point threat, and at 6’4 has good length for a guard. Snoop White has played well in the starting lineup, but who can fill Williams’ minutes off the bench? That will be up to freshman Martavious Newby. Not nearly the shooter, he will have to contribute on the defensive end. At 6’3 and 210 Lbs., he is a physical guard and is not afraid to match his physicality with anyone. The scoring will fall on the shoulders of Henderson and White, but the defensive presence is up to Newby.
Ole Miss is headed to Gainesville to take on the 4th ranked Gators in an attempt to regain the top spot in the SEC. Florida is undefeated at home and has been steamrolling conference opponents. The freshmen have been brought into the program with cautious care, but they will be thrust into the line of fire this weekend. Will the Rebels fold up their season and pack their bags for another NIT appearance, or will they fight to stay alive behind resiliance and a next-man-up mentality? That will be decided on Saturday, in the Sunshine State.