Ole Miss can make the NCAA tournament Selection Committee’s job a whole lot easier Sunday. If the Rebels can pull the upset and beat No. 13 Florida in the SEC championship game, they will move from a bubble team to an automatic bid and be able to Sunday evening. If not, things could get dicey. Florida, on the other hand, is solidly in the tournament and will be playing for its first SEC tournament title in six seasons. How do they match up in their respective quests for the NCAA tournament? Check out the preview below:
Andy Kennedy has gone from the hot seat to having Ole Miss on the brink of the NCAA tournament. He deserves credit for that, especially considering where the Rebels were chosen to finish in the conference during the preseason. But Kennedy faces Sunday a coach who has won five SEC regular season titles, three SEC tournament titles, and two national championships. Especially for his age, few compare to Billy Donovan and what he has been able to do at Florida.
Kenny Boynton is prone to taking bad shots and shoots below 40 percent from the floor, but is still the team’s second-leading scorer. Point guard Scottie Wilbekin has been one of the most improved players in the conference and is averaging 9.1 points and a solid five assists per game. Add in the fact that Mike Rosario is blossoming this season and it’s tough to discount the Gators. For as exciting as Marshall Henderson is as a personality and scorer, he is limited to affecting the game on the offensive end as a volume shooter. It is unclear whether Ole Miss will have point guard Jarvis Summers Sunday after he sat out the team’s win over Vanderbilt with injury. If he is out, that would be a big blow to the Rebels.
Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner combine to over 17 rebounds per game. That’s the heart and soul of a team that is Top 40 in the country in that department. They also provide the interior scoring complement to Henderson on the perimeter. They’ll have the upper hand against a Florida team that doesn’t rebound the ball particularly well and is not very deep in the front court. Erik Murphy is the team’s leading scorer and Patric Young already has an NBA-ready body, but Will Yeguete and Casey Prather make up the rest of a short rotation.
Advantage: Ole Miss
Florida beat Ole Miss by 14 points in the first meeting between these two teams and did it by making Marshall Henderson the only real offensive option for the Rebels. The Gators’ stifling defense directed all of the offensive toward him and he was able to finish with 25 points, but there was very little else for Ole Miss to have on that end of the floor. Ole Miss will need to get out on three-point shooters on the perimeter, especially Erik Murphy, who was 5-of-6 from long range in their first meeting.
Final Score: Florida 74, Ole Miss 64
Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_
After receiving commitments from former Purdue/Houston guard Ronnie Johnson and former Presbyterian forward DeSean Murray, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl continued to load up on the transfer market Monday. Forward LaRon Smith, who was named MEAC Defensive Player of the Year at Bethune-Cookman last season, announced that he will use his final season of eligibility at the SEC program.
Like Smith, Johnson will also be eligible to compete immediately for the Tigers while Murray will have to sit out next season before having two years of eligibility remaining.
The 6-foot-8 Smith played two seasons at Georgia State before transferring to Bethune-Cookman, where he averaged 7.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per contest in 2015-16. Smith played just over 25 minutes per game for the Wildcats, shooting 58.5 percent from the field.
Smith reached double figures in scoring in four of the Wildcats’ final seven games, including a 20-point, 11-rebound, three-block outing in an overtime win over North Carolina A&T. He joins a front court in need of depth following the departures of the likes of Cinmeon Bowers and Tyler Harris, with Horace Spencer, Trayvon Reed and incoming freshman Anfernee McLemore also competing for minutes in 2016-17.
With a five-member recruiting class set to arrive on campus this summer, SMU added a talented transfer Monday afternoon. Jimmy Whitt, who played his freshman season at Arkansas, committed to join Larry Brown’s program. Whitt, a 6-foot-4 guard from Columbia, Missouri, will have three seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign.
As a freshman at Arkansas, Whitt averaged 6.1 points and 1.7 rebounds in just over 17 minutes of action per game. He reached double figures in scoring nine time, with the high being a 15-point outing in a blowout win over Missouri in mid-January. Whitt produced a stretch of four consecutive games in double figures during non-conference play, but he struggled to maintain that consistency against SEC competition.
At SMU he’ll join a perimeter rotation that will lose rising senior Sterling Brown following the 2016-17 season. Among those who will have eligibility remaining when Whitt becomes eligible are Ben Emelogu, Shake Milton, Jarrey Foster and incoming freshmen Tom Wilson and Dashawn McDowell.
GREELEY, Colo. (AP) Jeff Linder is the new basketball coach at Northern Colorado. He spent the last six seasons at Boise State, where he was associate head coach for the Broncos since 2013-14.
Linder replaces B.J. Hill, who was fired last month amid an NCAA investigation into allegations of violations in the program.
University President Kay Norton and Athletic Director Darren Dunn announced Linder’s hiring Sunday.
Linder played high school ball in Lafayette, Colorado, and college ball at Mesa State and Western Colorado State. He began his coaching career under Colorado head coach Ricardo Patton.
In a statement, Linder said, “I look forward to returning home to the state of Colorado and continuing to build this program into something everyone can be proud of.”
Hill was 86-98 in six seasons at UNC.
STORRS, Conn. (AP) Azura Stevens, the leading scorer and rebounder for Duke, has decided to transfer to UConn.
The 6-foot-6 sophomore center from Raleigh, North Carolina will sit out next season and will have two years of eligibility remaining when the 2017-18 season begins the school announced Saturday.
Stevens averaged 18.9 points and 9.6 rebounds a game and was named to the ACC’s all-conference first team.
She was second in the league both scoring and rebounding.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Saturday that he normally doesn’t get involved in transfer situations, but Stevens convinced him that Storrs would be the right place for her going forward.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Forward V.J. Beachem has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will return to Notre Dame for his senior season.
Beachem made the announcement Sunday night on Twitter, writing that he was thankful for the opportunity to experience the NBA draft process and invitations to work out for teams, “but now I’m ready to lead [Notre Dame]. #IMBACK.”
The 6-foot-8, 200-pound forward finished third on the team in scoring, averaging 12.0 points and 3.9 rebounds as the Irish finished 24-12. He was at his best in the NCAA Tournament, when he averaged 17.5 points as the Irish advanced to the Elite Eight for a second straight year.
Coach Mike Brey sent a Tweet saying he was thrilled Beachem will return.