Jan. 5--OXFORD -- As the new year begins, Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy assesses his team as "healthy and improving," a situation report that makes him smile on both fronts.
"I'm very pleased compared to where we were at this time a year ago," he said.
That team was racked by injury and legal uncertainty regarding Kennedy's arrest in Cincinnati.
This team is 11-2 and ranked No. 14 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll going into tonight's final non-conference tune-up, at home at 7 against Central Florida.
The Rebels will take on Mississippi State at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in the SEC opener for both teams.
They will be without the services of backup point guard Will Bogan who sustained a possible broken hand in practice Sunday. Bogan was not in the regular playing rotation. Kennedy said he is also "monitoring" guard Trevor Gaskins, who was woozy after colliding with a teammate in Sunday's practice.
"Through 13 games you want to win the ones that you're quote 'supposed to,' and we've done a good job of doing that," Kennedy said. "We lost to Villanova in Puerto Rico and at West Virginia, two of the better teams in the country."
The Rebels go into tonight's game first in the SEC in scoring (84.2 ppg) and in assist-turnover ratio (1.33) but with an eye on improving in the paint, particularly in getting to the glass.
Ole Miss has been fair on the offensive end but is 11th in defensive rebound percentage (62.7).
In their losses the Rebels were out-rebounded 51-36 against Villanova and 52-33 against West Virginia.
"It's one of our concerns," Kennedy said. "Coming in we knew it was going to be an issue. We play a possession game, and we have to do a much better job on the defensive boards to limit second chances by opponents."
Center Murphy Holloway leads Ole Miss with 6.8 rebounds a game, 10th in the SEC and the only Ole Miss player to rank in the SEC's rebounding top 20.
Freshman Reginald Buckner is averaging 5.2 rebounds, senior DeAundre Cranston 4.1.
Holloway leads the SEC and is fourth in the NCAA in field goal percentage at 63.8.
"Reg is getting more and more minutes, but every day is a new experience. DeAundre has been fairly dependable, but we have to get our wings to rebound more aggressively," Kennedy said.
Young Knights Conference USA member UCF (8-5) starts two freshmen and two sophomores. The Golden Knights have lost to three Big East teams including 60-51 at UConn on Dec. 20.
They own an 84-74 neutral-site win over Auburn. UCF was 0-27 against the SEC before defeating Auburn.
Six-foot-three shooting guard Isaac Sosa leads the team in scoring with 12.1 points a game.
"They will control the ball, be very disciplined and will not do anything to beat themselves," Kennedy said. "We will need to come out with the right approach."