December 19, 2007

Rebel set to tip-off in San Juan

These three games were always going to be important, but after starting 8-0, these games mean even more.

Is this team unbeaten because of who it's played? What will the team look like against someone from a power conference? Just how good is Ole Miss?

The Ole Miss men's basketball team will get to answer these questions and more as the Rebels begin play in the San Juan Shootout. Ole Miss opens play in Puerto Rico Thursday at 4:30 p.m. against DePaul.

"It's going to be a big test to see where the team's at and to see where I'm at physically and mentally," freshman guard Chris Warren said. "We'll see how good we are as a team."

Warren and the Rebels have looked like a pretty good team at times so far, but Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said he thinks they're capable of more.

"We had a first half against South Alabama that may have been our best basketball of the year. We had 25 minutes against New Mexico where we were awfully good," Kennedy said. "We've had 10 minutes here and 12 minutes there, but we still have not been able to put together a total game. I think this team still has a lot of opportunity to grow."

Through eight games, the Rebels are averaging 89.9 points per game and 42 rebounds per game - both tops in the SEC.

But Ole Miss hasn't played a team from a power conference yet - until Thursday.

DePaul (2-5) is off to a rough start, with three-straight losses. The Blue Demons recently had a shot at another undefeated team from the SEC, Vanderbilt, and led the Commodores late before falling in overtime.

Ole Miss' leading scorer Dwayne Curtis knows DePaul pretty well. The Chicago native was recruited heavily by his hometown school.

"DePaul, they're a pretty big team," Curtis said. "They're really talented."

Senior guard Draelon Burns can score in bunches. He's averaging 18.6 points per game and has already gone for 32 points twice this season.

Up front, former five-star freshman Mac Koshwal is improving each game. Koshwal had 21 points and seven rebounds in the Blue Demons' loss to Vanderbilt.

On the wing, freshman Dar Tucker's averaging 13.7 points and 6.3 rebounds.

After taking on DePaul on Thursday, the Rebels face LaSalle (4-4) at 4:30 p.m. Friday.

The Explorers began play in the San Juan Shootout with a 117-86 win over Puerto Rico-Mayaguez.

LaSalle is averaging 74 points per game, and have done a lot of damage from beyond the three-point line. The Explorers are attempting over 20 3's per game and hitting 37 percent of their chances.

Senior guard Darnell Harris leads LaSalle with 16.1 points a game.

Before the Rebels leave San Juan, they'll get their chance at No. 15 Clemson Saturday at 4:30 p.m.

Clemson (8-0) ended the Rebels' season last March, knocking Ole Miss out in the second round of the NIT.

Clemson's been stifling opponents, holding teams to 63 points per game on 41 percent shooting. The Tigers are also tough on the glass, where they out-rebound teams 42.5 to 35.1.

Junior wing K.C. Rivers leads the attack, averaging 15.9 points per game and 7.4 rebounds.

Clemson's second-leading scorer, senior forward James Mays, is questionable for the tournament with a hip sprain that has kept him out of Clemson's last two contests.

In five games, Mays is averaging 14.8 points and 8.6 rebounds. Sophomore Trevor Booker leads the team 10.5 rebounds a game.

Junior forward Terrence Watson said the trip gives the Rebels to throw some gas on the fire provided by the Rebels' hot start.

"We're just trying to stay focused and win some games," Watson said. "If we keep on the right track, hopefully we can come back in the Top 25, give people something to talk about."

Kenny Williams said the Rebels want to keep momentum going into the SEC season, which begins in January. But, he said, it starts Thursday.

"We can gain so much by winning. We'd gain in the RPI. We'd be in the Top 25 for the first time since 2001," Williams said. "If we go 3-0, coming back here, we'll feel pretty good."

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