December 26, 2007

Rebels start 11-0 for variety of reasons

They said they wanted it, and here they are.

Members of the Ole Miss men's basketball team knew if they went 11-0, they'd find themselves in the Top 25.

And Monday, when the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today released their polls, the Rebels found themselves ranked.

Ole Miss is ranked No. 22 in the Associated Pres poll and No. 24 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll.

"It's a long season and we have so much more to do, but I'm happy that our players have been acknowledged for all their hard work," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said.

With just two more non-conference games before the Rebels open SEC play, let's look at how Ole Miss played its way into the polls.

On guard

The experts picked Ole Miss to finish last in the SEC West - probably for one reason. The Rebels lost all of its backcourt scoring from a year ago with the graduations of Todd Abernethy, Bam Doyne and Clarence Sanders.

Heading into the year, no one knew exactly what the Rebels were going to get out of Chris Warren and Trevor Gaskins.

Gaskins has been one of Ole Miss' top perimeter threats, hitting 25-of-53 from three-point range.

Warren's surpassed all expectations through 11 games, earning SEC Freshman of the Week honors twice.

In San Juan, Warren was the tournament MVP. In three games, he scored 49 points - 41 in the second half. With three games on the line, Warren stepped up and played like a veteran.

Glass men

Statistically, the most glaring numbers belong to senior forward Dwayne Curtis - 67-for-99 from the field for a 67.7 shooting percentage, 81 percent from the free throw line and15.6 points per game.

After helping Ole Miss to three wins in the San Juan Shootout, Curtis earned National Player of the Week honors from He's also won SEC Player of the Week honors earlier this season.

But Curtis and senior forward Kenny Williams have made a bigger mark on the glass. Williams leads the team with 8.7 boards per game, and Curtis has grabbed 8.0 rebounds.

Ole Miss has been dominant on the glass, grabbing 7.8 more rebounds a game than its opponents.

The Rebels have been consistently getting to the glass more often on both sides of the floor, and it's a major reason this team is undefeated.

Special K

Kennedy has guided this team with a young backcourt and veteran post players to the best start in school history, tied with the 2000-01 season.

He's kept the team motivated through a schedule of lesser opponents that's slowly begun to crescendo over the past month with games against Central Florida, Winthrop DePaul and Clemson.

But more importantly, Kennedy and the Rebel staff have been able to play 10 guys a game and count on big plays from all of them.

On the Rebels' way to 11-0, it's been more than Warren, Gaskins, Williams or Curtis.

It's been a David Huertas three, an Eniel Polynice assist and a Jermey Parnell dunk. It's valuable minutes from Brian Smith, an offensive rebound and putback from Malcolm White, a big block from Terrence Watson and some quick points from Zach Graham.

And, it's been Kennedy pulling the strings on a talented team on its way into the Top 25.

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