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Observations from the Best Seat in the House -- Feb. 8

National Signing Day has come and gone, the Mike Smith Era began in earnest, and the men's basketball team has run its winning streak to five games, its longest win streak since the 2012-13, when the Rebels won the SEC Tournament Championship and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Here are some thoughts and opinions on the week that was:

- Head coach Hugh Freeze and his staff won some and lost some on National Signing Day, as they put together a 22-member class, ranked as high as No. 15 in the nation (247Sports.com), and as low as No. 21 in the nation (RIvals.com). The class included 18 players rated a four-star prospect or higher by at least one recruiting service, the most in program history, including offensive lineman Javon Patterson and wide receiver DaMarkus Lodge, the seventh and eighth five-star prospect signed under Freeze

"You lose some battles when you are battling for some of the nation's best," Freeze said. "Every school does. We had a few of those, but we also won many, many battles for kids who really wanted to be at Ole Miss and this program representing this great university. I'm excited to get to work with them."

- Among the battles won were the last three players signed in Lodge, who announced his college decision live on ESPNU, choosing the Rebels over Texas and Texas A&M, defensive lineman Austrian Robinson, who chose them over Maryland, and wide receiver Van Jefferson, the son of 13-year NFL veteran Shawn Jefferson, who chose them over Georgia, Michigan and Oklahoma, as well as linebacker Shawn Curtis, who flipped his commitment from Pittsburgh.

- Speaking to some of the recruiting battles lost, Freeze said he and his staff will revisit the entire recruiting process, including allowing commitments to take other visits, gong through every kid on their board and talking about the outcome, the good and the bad, why it did not their way in the end, and could they have done anything different. On a related note, looking ahead to 2016, Freeze said of addressing needs on the offensive line, defensive line and linebacker with mid-year signees, whether it's JUCO or high school players.

- One of the more underrated aspects of the 2015 signing class are the five mid-year enrollees, a group that includes the top junior college quarterback (Chad Kelly), defensive lineman (D.J. Jones) and cornerback (Tony Bridges). All three players, as well as junior college linebacker Terry Caldwell and early enrollee Javon Patterson are expected to feature prominently in spring practice and push for playing time come the fall.

- In case you missed it, here's a National Signing Day link roundup of videos and stories related to the signing class as a whole and videos and stories related to individual signees.

- The men's basketball team extended its winning streak to five games, defeating Texas A&M 69-59 Wednesday night, its third top-50 RPI win of the season, and then going on the road and defeating Auburn 86-79, moving to 3-2 in SEC road games this season. With the wins, the Rebels remain in a three-way tie for second place in the SEC standings and moved up to No. 37 in the latest RPI rankings released by the NCAA.

- The story against Texas A&M was a locked-in defensive effort, holding the Aggies' two leading scorers, Jalen Jones and Danuel House, to a combined 14 points on 5-of-19 shooting, and two key 3-point plays by LaDarius White and M.J. Rhett to push the lead to 59-50 with 6:26 left.

- LaDarius White led the way with 20 points, making big play after big play, but it was a team effort throughout the lineup, as five Rebels finished in double figures in the win over Auburn. The nation's top free-throw shooting team, the Rebels closed out the game from the line, going 10-of-12 in the final 1:28 to finish 28-of-38 for the game.

"Ole Miss is really comfortable with their nine players," Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. "That's what makes them a really good and a contender is that they don't drop off at all when they go to their bench."

- Watching the Ole Miss-Auburn game on television, you could sense the energy in Auburn Arena, whether it was the memories of the Marshall Henderson jersey-pop, or the culture change under first-year head coach Bruce Pearl. The Pavilion at Ole Miss, set to open next season, will have a similar design and capacity, so fans watching the game got a taste of what the game day atmosphere might be like next season.

- Looking ahead, the Rebels have their first of two Thursday-Saturday swings, traveling to Florida on Thursday and playing host to Arkansas on Saturday. The Gators are ranked No. 67 in the latest RPI rankings and No. 35 in the latest KenPom.com ratings, while the Razorbacks are ranked No. 25 in the RPI and No. 31 in KenPom.

- The women's basketball team, looking for its first win at Vanderbilt since Jan. 8, 1987, led for 27:00, leading by as many as 16 early in the second half, but the Rebels were unable to overcome 42 second-half points from the Commodores in a 58-54 loss on Thursday night.

- Ole Miss, now 14-9 overall and 4-6 in SEC play, has six regular season remaining, starting with a home game against No. 6 Tennessee on Thursday. Head coach Matt Insell has said his team likely needs to get to at least eight SEC wins to garner NCAA Tournament consideration, so the Rebels likely need at least a split of the final six regular season games.

- The Ole Miss softball team kicked off the Mike Smith Era with six games in four days at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Arizona, going 3-3 with wins over San Jose State, Fresno State and Western Michigan. The Rebels are on the road for five games in three days next weekend, before returning home for the Red and Blue Classic (Feb. 20-22), playing host to UT-Martin, Nebraska-Omaha, Southern Illinois and Middle Tennessee State.

- The Ole Miss baseball team opens the 2015 season next weekend with a three-game home series against William & Mary, starting with the series opener Friday at 4 p.m. The Ole Miss baseball preseason press conference is set for Monday, so stay tuned for more coverage leading up to the season opener.

- The No. 24 ranked Ole Miss women's tennis picked up a pair of road wins, defeating No. 29 Texas Tech and No. 32 Rice. The Rebels return home for each of their next three matches, starting with Tulane on Friday (2 p.m.), before opening SEC play on Friday, Feb. 27 with a road match at Kentucky.

- The No. 19 ranked Ole Miss men's tennis team was off this past weekend, returning to action Monday for its home opener against Troy, before traveling to Chicago for the ITA National Team Indoor (Feb. 13-16).

Rebels to Open SEC Play ' in Grand Fashion'

Ole Miss looks to reverse history, as the Rebels (9-4) travel to No. 1 Kentucky tonight (6 p.m., SEC Network), the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.

Ole Miss is 0-15 all-time against the nation's top ranked team, last playing No. 1 Kentucky in 2012. Kentucky is 102-13 all-time against Ole Miss, including 48-2 in games played in Lexington. The Rebels have one win all-time at Rupp Arena, coming in 1998.

"Excited to get the SEC schedule under way, and we obviously do it in grand fashion in Rupp Arena tomorrow night," said head coach Andy Kennedy on the SEC teleconference Monday. "So I know our guys will be excited about the opportunity, playing in the most storied venue in all of college basketball, against arguably the best team in college basketball. So I know our guys will be looking forward to the opportunity."

The Wildcats are a perfect 13-0, as they pursue the first undefeated season in college basketball since the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers, a team that included Tom Abernathy, the father of Todd Abernethy, the coordinator of recruiting development and acting assistant coach.

By defeating Louisville by eight points, 58-50, Kentucky's school-record run of consecutive double-digits to begin the season ended at 12, a run that included double-digit wins over No. 5 Kansas, No. 25 Providence, No. 6 Texas and No. 18 North Carolina.

"Cal doesn't get the credit he deserves for the job he does," said South Carolina head coach Frank Martin on the SEC teleconference Monday. "I watched them the other day. They're magnificent. They're defending as well as any team in the country, and as well as any team I've seen in a long time."

Their defense, Kennedy said, is what gives gives them an opportunity an opportunity to undefeated this season. Kentucky leads the nation in scoring defense (47.8 ppg), field goal percentage defense (.297) and blocked shots (8.2/game). The Wildcats also lead the SEC and ranks seventh nationally in 3-point field goal percentage defense (.267).

"They're a special defensive team," Kennedy said. I've certainly watched them casually when I could throughout the course of the season, and then as we gear up for them in preparation. That is what gives them an opportunity to do what I know is a topic of conversation not only in Kentucky but throughout the country: Can this team go through the regular season undefeated? 

"It'll be a monumental challenge, obviously, but defensively is the reason that I think it's a valid question, simply because they don't give you anything easy, and as a result teams have really struggled to score against them."

Because of their defense, along with their size and length, Kennedy has stressed the importance of making jump shots, and defensively, keeping them off the offensive glass. Kentucky leads the SEC and ranks ninth nationally in rebounding margin (+10.4/game), leading the league in both offensive rebounds (15.2/game) and offensive rebounding percentage (.460).

"We're going to have to make jump shots, which is not easy to do in any venue, much less Rupp," said Kennedy after the win over Austin Peay on Saturday. "Because of their length and ability to alter everything in the paint, you have to make jump shots. Defensively, you have to do an incredible job off the defensive glass. We've improved on our rebounding margin and guys are pursing the ball more consistently. If you allow them to live off the offensive glass, you have no chance."

Kentucky head coach John Calipari, looking at Ole Miss, stressed the importance of defending jump shots, particularly perimeter shots, noting that the Rebels' three leading scorers, all perimeter players -- junior Stefan Moody (13.9 ppg), senior Jarvis Summers (13.3 ppg) and LaDarius White (12.5 ppg) -- account for 52.6 percent of the team's scoring and 53.2 percent of the team's field goal attempts.

"Mississippi is going to shoot 25 threes in this game or maybe more," said Calipari in his media opportunity Monday. "If they make 20, then we lost our first game. They're shooting 25. Their three guards are their leading scorers and take more than 50 percent of their shots. 

"They offensive rebound 13 or 14 per game. They're going to play a zone where they're changing defenses. It could confuse us. If they're making shots, then we have to try to drive them off the 3-point line. When you're playing teams that are willing to shoot that many, you just don't know."

SEC Appears Stronger Entering Start of League Play

Looking at the SEC as a whole, all metrics point to a stronger league from top to bottom and perhaps more NCAA Tournament bids for a league that received just three bids last season. And it starts with Kentucky's dominance at the top.

"Kentucky has sort of separated themselves in the nonconference from the rest of the world, not only in our league, but from everybody else's league as well," said Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings on the SEC teleconference Monday. "Our league is deep and I think the conference season will be an absolute grind because there are so many teams that are probably competitive and equal enough that a lot of teams can win on any given night."

The SEC is one of four conferences with five teams in the RPI top 50 and one of three leagues with 10 teams in the RPI top 100. The SEC also has five teams in the top 50 and 11 teams in the top 100, according to KenPom.com. Ole Miss is rated No. 93 and No. 67 in the two metrics, respectively.

ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi released his first full bracket of the season, and it included five SEC teams, and in his conference-by-conference forecast, he forecasts four teams from the SEC to receive an NCAA Tournament bid.

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    Tiffany J. Moore said:

    This is amazing with what he have done so far! Hope that he'll achieve more in the future!

    in post Evan Engram Hauls in Midseason Accolades

    Fiftyyears fan said:

    How can you have five straight top 25 recruiting classes and look as bad as Ole Miss has this year. Easy lack of coaching fundamentals. Look at Mason at Vandy, nothing but 2 and 3 star recruits out of high school and he developers players that want to win. Hugh freeze has 3, 4 & 5 recruits and he expects them to win because of what they were in High School. Mr. Freeze you have not been teaching the fundamentals of football or winning in life. Mr. Freeze you have quit on your players because you have some false expectations of what they are instead of what you can develop in them. Either do your job or quit. Oh yea, please quit running your smoke and mirrors offense, everyone has figured it out. Run a physical offense that can open up holes for your running backs and then your pass attack want require 12 are 14 four and five star receivers. Mr. Freeze you have problems and you need to know that you are not smarter than the rest of the coaches in the SEC.

    in post Rebels Unable to Send Senior Class Out on a High Note

    Karen Holden said:

    Not every pass can be caught. Too low, too short whatever. Not every Kelly pass is perfect. Records were broken by receivers also. But they sre not going to catch every ball thrown. The loss to Auburn was not one players fault. You win or lose as a team.

    in post Late Mistake Spoils Chad Kelly's Historic Performance

    Trent browning said:

    Hey I was just wandering if these are the only 2 olemiss players signing. If there are more signing please respond to me ASAP. Also wondering if neil everett will sign any autographs. Thank you very much

    in post Heisman House Tour Heads to Oxford for Ole Miss-Georgia

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