Rebels get their shot at LSU’s Simmons

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The conversation as to the best player in men’s college basketball is seemingly centered around four names: Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, Providence’s Kris Dunn, Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine and LSU’s Ben Simmons.

Andy Kennedy knows who would get his vote.

“Ben Simmons is inarguably the best player in college basketball,” Ole Miss’ coach said earlier this week.

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The Rebels will get their up-close look at LSU’s freshman phenom tonight when they travel to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to take on the Tigers (8 p.m., ESPN2). Ole Miss (12-3, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) has won nine of its last 10 games but is still searching for its first league victory on the road after opening SEC play with a 22-point loss at Kentucky on Jan. 2.

Ole Miss is coming off wins in its first two games at the new Pavilion, but any realistic chance the Rebels have of getting out of the Maravich Assembly Center with a win over the Tigers (9-6, 2-1) starts with containing Simmons, who’s in the mix to be the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-10, 240-pound Simmons is averaging a double-double with 20.6 points per game and an SEC-best 13.1 rebounds a game. The Australian’s skill set allows him to constantly draw mismatches with his ability to play any position on the floor, and his knack for finding open teammates is as good as his scoring prowess with his 5.1 assists a night ranking third in the SEC.

“He’s been a tremendous teammate in trying to create opportunities to get the guys around him better and always trying to play to win,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “That’s been good for us, and I’m excited to have him as a part of our team.”

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Simmons has gotten help from a supporting cast that’s fully intact. Guard Keith Hornsby is averaging 15.5 points a game after missing the first seven games of the season because of an injury while forward Craig Victor became eligible in December after transferring from Arizona last January.

The Tigers, who were picked by the media to finish fourth in the SEC in the preseason, lost five games in the non-conference portion of their schedule but started league play with wins over Vanderbilt and No. 9 Kentucky. They lost at Florida, 68-62, their last time out.

“I think now that they have their full complement of players with Hornsby and then Craig Victor joining the team in the last few weeks, I think they’re a very, very good basketball team,” Kennedy said.