Last year was a typical Andy Kennedy season at Ole Miss. The Rebels finished in the upper half of the SEC's final standings with a 10-8 conference mark. They won 22 games and reached the quarterfinals of the NIT.
It probably wasn't the kind of season some Rebel fans were hoping for, but based on preseason expectations the outcome was pretty much what was anticipated.
There are some reasons to believe Ole Miss could once again finish in the upper echelon of the conference, especially given Kennedy's track record, but some substantial hurdles will have to be cleared.
There's not the flashy recruiting class in Oxford that there is in other parts of the league. More significant is the fact that Ole Miss has to find a way to replace Sebastian Saiz and the 15.1 points, 11.4 rebounds and defensive prowess that he provided.
This week on the SEC teleconference Kennedy called Saiz "one of the great players in the history of our program," so he's not exactly downplaying the significance of his departure.
So who will Kennedy turn to in the middle, given Saiz's departure? He specifically mentioned Dominik Olejniczak, a 7-footer from Poland, who transferred from Drake and redshirted as he sat out last season.
Kennedy also pointed out that the Rebels high have expectations for incoming transfer Bruce Stevens, who was a first team JUCO All-American last year. Stevens, a power forward, averaged a double-double and passed on the opportunity to go to Georgetown. He can bang inside but he's also got the range to pull a defender away from the basket and can knock down long twos.
The first player Kennedy mentioned on the teleconference was graduate transfer Markel Crawford, a guard who arrived in Oxford from Memphis, where he played his first three seasons of college basketball. Crawford saw his scoring increase from 5.3 to 12.8 points per game from his sophomore to his junior season.
Kennedy said his experience, even if it was with a different program, will be "very, very valuable."
"He's only got the one year in the program," Kennedy pointed out, illustrating his expectations for Crawford, who shot 47.8-percent from the floor for the Tigers last year.
But the player Kennedy may be most excited about is Breein Tyree, a sophomore guard who averaged 7.3 points in his first year with the program in 2016-17.
"I think the biggest improvement that I've seen, just because he's now fully healthy and he didn't have this summer last year based on the injury coming out of high school, is Breein Tyree," Kennedy said. "He's a kid who suffered an ACL tear in April of his senior year of high school. He wasn't cleared for basketball activity until late October, early November. So to see him back and healthy and whole and regaining the bounce and confidence he had when we recruited him has been very pleasing."
If all that's not enough, Kennedy didn't even mention the return of senior Deandre Burnett, who scored 16.5 points per game (37.6-percent from 3-point range). He should again be one of the SEC's top scorers.