This is a make-or-break year for Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy.
Photo by Courtesy Ole Miss Photography
Any time a new sports season starts, people talk about contenders, the best players and, at some point, turn to which coaches are in the hot seat—you know, the coaches who need to have success to keep their job after the season.
If you were building a list of coaches that are in hot water in Mississippi, that list would begin and end with Andy Kennedy. The Ole Miss coach has not had a losing season during his time at Oxford—but he hasn’t gotten the Rebels into the NCAA Tournament, either.
Kennedy has won an average of 21 games each year at Ole Miss. In fact, his worst season was 16-15 in the 2008-09 season, and he bounced to back to post three-straight 20-win season.
There is just that one nagging omission from his resume while leading the Rebels. Every season except that dreadful ’08-’09 season resulted in a post-season berth but not the right post-season berth.
Kennedy could be called Mr. NIT because that is the only tournament he has been able to reach. In his only season as head coach at Cincinnati, he reached the NIT before leaving for Ole Miss.
Twice while at Ole Miss, he reached the NIT semifinals but has been bounced in the first round the last two seasons. So you have to wonder if this program is starting to take a step back.
Reaching the NIT is not Kennedy’s only problem—his record in the SEC is not stellar either.
Before the SEC did away with east and west divisions last year, Ole Miss under Kennedy finished tied for first twice, in 2006-07 with an 8-8 record and in 2009-10 with a 9-7 record.
In fact, Kennedy hasn’t produced a conference record better than 9-7 while at Ole Miss. On the flip side, he has never finished worse in conference than 7-9.
But there is something to remember: In basketball, the SEC is not the ACC, Big East or Big 10. You could rank the Big 12 over the SEC until Texas A&M and Missouri jumped to the conference this season.
The only teams in the SEC recently that have been true basketball powers are Kentucky (nearly always a power) and Florida (a recent power). Tennessee and Vanderbilt have been solid programs but were in the east.
Since UM hired Kennedy, Alabama and LSU have enjoyed one NCAA Tournament appearance. Arkansas and Mississippi State have each had two NCAA Tournament appearances.
Only Auburn has not been to the NCAA Tournament from SEC west division since Kennedy came to Ole Miss. The Rebels have the longest NCAA Tournament drought in the SEC, even with Texas A&M and Missouri joining the conference.
The last time Ole Miss reached the NCAA Tournament was 2002. Their head coach was Rod Barnes, and the Rebels were trounced by 80-58 UCLA in the first round of the tournament.
Since Kennedy took over, the NCAA Tournament has expanded to add four more teams.
Time has to be running out on Kennedy at Ole Miss. How much longer can Mr. NIT keep his job if he can’t even get his team into the field of 68?
Is Ole Miss basketball content to just reach the NIT? Or is it time to thank Kennedy for the job he has done and find someone else to take the program to the next level?
We will have our answer if this season ends in another NIT berth—or no post-season bid at all.