A season ago, Ole Miss' biggest concern was how to respond if opponents were able to take Justin Reed out of the game. The concerns are much deeper this year. Reed, the 2003 SEC scoring champ, and his point-producing sidekick, Aaron Harper, are gone. And they took 55 percent of the Rebels' offense with them.
Coach Rod Barnes faces the task of righting the ship with a band of role players and newcomers. After guiding his alma mater to three NCAA tournaments -- including a Sweet 16 appearance in 2001 -- in his first four seasons, Barnes faces the very real possibility of a third straight losing season in his sixth year in Oxford. Ole Miss won just nine of 32 SEC games over the past two years.
Barnes shook up his coaching staff in the offseason, adding noted recruiter Tracy Dildy, who spent the past two years at Auburn, and former Ole Miss guard Michael White. "When you look at where we are and ask what the biggest problem has been, it's recruiting," Barnes said. "We've got to get a job done, and I had to get somebody who was better than I am -- or considered better than I am. We have definitely turned the corner in recruiting, but there's no magic fix to this."
The fix Barnes will employ is a move away from the motion offense to a more up-tempo style, one he hopes will generate more easy baskets in the transition game for guys such as Ed Glass and Marvin Moore, junior college transfers who never fit into the halfcourt game last year.
FRONTCOURTIt remains to be seen if power forward Tommie Eddie can thrive in transition, although he remains the most viable option when the Rebels have to play the halfcourt game. Eddie started seven SEC games last season, averaging just 4.7 points and 3.2 boards.
The slender, athletic Moore should thrive in a more up-tempo attack. Moore, who averaged 23.1 ppg in junior college, scored just 2.0 points last season and often looked uncomfortable in the halfcourt offense.
Freshman Jeremy Parnell (6-foot-9, 240) is an interesting piece to add to the puzzle. An all-state pick from Gosnell, Ark., Parnell was a talented low-post scorer and rebounder in high school. Another Arkansas freshman, swingman Brandon Patterson, was also a successful high school scorer (25.8 ppg). Patterson is in the mold of sophomore Bam Doyne, who looked lost early but played better at the end of last season.
Kendrick Fox is a threat from 3-point range, but he shot just 33.3 percent from beyond the arc in SEC play after shooting 37.3 against non-conference opponents. Chris Rhodes is a talented defensive player but lacks scoring punch.
BACKCOURTTodd Abernethy showed composure in running the club as a freshman. He has good offensive skills but has trouble getting his shot off against quicker defenders. Glass, like Moore, is a junior college transfer who Barnes hopes will blossom in his second season.
Brian Smith, son of Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, joined the program as a walk-on after a season at prep school. Barnes sees him as a good on-ball defender with decent offensive skills from 15 feet and in. Pesky point guard Cavadas Nunnery (5-9) can change the pace of a game with his disruptive defense.
Veteran Justin Johnson can nail the 3-pointer but, with a 6-foot frame, isn't going to shoot over anybody.
FINAL ANALYSISBarnes is a defensive coach, and there are enough returning players who know his style to make good offenses have a bad day. But points have to come from someone, and there is no proven scorer on the roster. Moore, Glass and Fox have the best chance to show noticeable improvement. Eddie has soft hands and a nice touch but has to play better for longer stretches of time.
The newcomers chose Ole Miss, at least in part, because of the chance to contribute. They will have to play with maturity to help this team achieve success. The Rebels will hustle enough to surprise a few league foes, but it's hard to place high hopes on a team with so many players who haven't established themselves offensively in the SEC.