An early look at Ole Miss basketball’s revamped roster
College basketball rosters are in an age of constant turnover, and Ole Miss isn’t immune to the change.
The Rebels have just five full-time contributors returning from last year’s team with two seniors gone and transfers shuffling in and out of the program, but the changes have Ole Miss primed to have one of the more talented teams head coach Andy Kennedy has had during his 12-year tenure with the Rebels coming off a quarterfinal run in the National Invitation Tournament.
Ole Miss’ roster for the 2017-18 season still may not be complete — Cullen Neal’s decision to transfer leaves the Rebels with one more scholarship for the spring signing period if they choose to use it — but here’s a look at what Ole Miss has lost and gained so far and how the pieces could fit come November.
Going out: Sebastian Saiz, Rasheed Brooks, Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey (transfer), Cullen Neal (transfer)
Coming in: Devontae Shuler, Jamarko Pickett, Parker Stewart, Bruce Stevens, Markel Crawford (Memphis transfer), Dominik Olejniczak (Drake transfer)
Ole Miss needed to get more athletic on the perimeter and has seemingly done that with Shuler and Crawford, whose decision last week to play his senior season at Ole Miss meant minutes were going to be hard to come by for Neal, who was already reduced to a role player in what ended up being his only season with the Rebels.
A three-year starter at Memphis and the Tigers’ second-leading scorer last season, the 6-foot-5 Crawford will likely fill the same role for Ole Miss, giving the Rebels additional depth on the wing — he and Deandre Burnett, last season’s leading scorer, will share those minutes — as well as a big-bodied scorer opposite breakout star Terence Davis as more of a slasher (48-percent shooting from the field last season), though Crawford is serviceable from deep (33-percent shooting from 3-point range).
Crawford and Shuler, a national top-150 recruit, are also better defenders and should help an Ole Miss team that was ninth in the Southeastern Conference last season in field-goal percentage defense and next to last in 3-point field-goal percentage defense. Breein Tyree, who should be fully recovered from his high school knee injury, will be back to run the point, though Crawford or Shuler could slide over there if needed.
Stewart, who signed with Ole Miss back in the fall along with Shuler and Pickett, is another 6-5 wing that can shoot, though how the incoming freshman factors into Ole Miss’ plans next season with so many experienced options in front of him remains to be seen.
The Rebels are tasked with replacing one of the most productive big men in school history in Saiz, the only player in the SEC to average a double-double last season.
Olejniczak, a rising sophomore, will be eligible after sitting out last season per NCAA transfer rules and will immediately slide in as a true center. Olejniczak’s offensive game may not be as advanced as Saiz’s at this stage, but as a legitimate 7-footer, Olejniczak will instantly give the Rebels a rebounder and the kind of rim protector they haven’t had since Reggie Buckner.
Stevens will be expected to help from Day 1, too. Ranked the No. 6 junior college prospect in the country by JucoRecruiting.com, the 6-8, 255-pound Stevens signed with the Rebels after an All-American season at Jones County Junior College, where he averaged 16.1 points and 11.6 rebounds as a sophomore.
Stevens, who played for former Ole Miss standout and new assistant Rahim Lockhart at JCJC, also has the ability to shoot from deep, which should allow the Rebels to loosen up defenses more often than they did last season when there wasn’t a real secondary scoring option to Saiz on the interior. Stevens shot 38 percent from the 3-point line last season, which would’ve tied Burnett for the second-highest clip on Ole Miss’ team.
Pickett may not start, but as the highest-ranked recruit in the Rebels’ top-25 signing class, the bouncy 6-7 forward will have a role next season. A consensus four-star recruit, Pickett has the versatility to play inside and out.
The lack of frontcourt depth last season resulted in Justas Furmanavicius and Marcanvis Hymon combining for 41 starts at the forward spots, but they’ll likely provide depth as seniors. Both showed they can be effective in spurts with each averaging five rebounds per game.
Karlis Silins will also be back for his sophomore season. Another big body at 6-11, Silins played in eight games as a freshman before a torn ACL ended his season.
Projected starting lineup: Tyree at point guard, Davis at the wing, Crawford at the other wing, Stevens at power forward, Olejniczak at center
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