Let’s face it. Ole Miss is not a basketball school. They have been to the NCAA tournament a total of 6 times, and made it to the sweet sixteen, exactly once. They have never won an outright SEC title beyond one modern tournament win (1981).
Basketball at Ole Miss is just not a priority, they are a small school in a small southern town, with a old, small gym. Basketball used to be something for the football players to do in the winter. In fact, back in the 50’s, the head basketball coach had done such a good job with the team, he was given a promotion to assistant football coach.
What success they have had over the last 15 years has been accomplished with small town players from Arkansas (with a few Jackson guys thrown in). Rob Evans finished 86-81 after 6 years in 1998, taking Ole Miss to the NCAA tournament for the second time ever. Coach Evans truly built the program from the ground up. There was no basketball program to speak of before Rob Evans.
After Evans left for Arizona State, assistant Coach Rod Barnes took the team to the NCAA tournament 3 out of his 8 years and finished at 141-109. With the program trending downward and with a taste of success, Ole Miss made what looked to be a good fit hire.
Andy Kennedy, a Mississippi native, was the interm head coach at Cincinnati in 2005 and won 21 games under some dire internal circumstances between Huggy Bear and the school administration and team injuries.
A little recruiting and time to rebuild, and the consensus was AK would have Ole Miss right back in the NCAA tourney. He won SEC division titles in ‘07 and ’10, hit the NIT in ’08 and ’10, but the "big dance" has proven elusive.
What basketball fans are at Ole Miss, are getting restless.
So what do you do? AK has won more games in 5 years than any coach ever at Ole Miss (105). Coach Kennedy has had 4 20+win seasons in 5 years. But you play to win. The measure of any coach is playing to win a title, or at least improving toward that goal. He hasn’t given up, nor has the team, after a gutsy win in Fayetteville last night.
I believe AK’s biggest problem has been the relative success of Rick Stansbury. Recruiting and MSU’s better facility has given Rick a slight edge, and those few extra wins make the difference between getting in the tourney or not.
AK is in a rebuilding year, coming off the graduation of star Chris Warren, and I will say, he has done an admirable job pushing this team without a real outside shooting threat.
With a lame duck athletic director, Coach Kennedy is a lock to return next year. If he can survive long enough to see the new stadium built (in 2015) he will be in the cat bird seat. At that point you will find AK as the top coach in Mississippi, as Stansbury will likely no longer be at MSU. But in order to last that long he has to find a way to get off the bubble. And soon.