Ole Miss, New Orleans open with big expectations

NCAA Men's Basketball

Expectations for a bigger year abound as Ole Miss prepares to open its season with a home game against the University of New Orleans Tuesday.

The Rebels, who went 16-12 last season, have reason for optimism.

Returning players include senior combo guard Jarkel Joiner, a midrange specialist, forward Luis Rodriguez, who does everything but score, and perhaps most importantly, sophomore wing Matthew Murrell, a former top-40 recruit from the Memphis area.

“There’s no better athlete than Matt in all of college basketball,” head coach Kermit Davis said. “Run, jump, strength, speed, he’s got it all. … He’s got to get all of those great physical attributes into day-to-day possessions, and I mean every possession. When Matt does that, then boom, he’ll just jump up and be one of the elite players.”

Freshman point guard Daeshun Ruffin also has the bona fides (McDonald’s All-American) to make an immediate impact, even at 5-9.

“His basketball IQ is a lot higher than I originally thought,” Davis said. “He’s a really good passer, as good of a passer as I’ve had since I’ve been here, and he’s just an electric guy off the dribble that’s hard to keep in front.”

A trio of transfers also figure to help out. Jaemyn Brakefield, a sophomore forward from Duke, has the highest ceiling of the bunch. Tye Fagan (Georgia) and 7-footer Nysier Brooks (Miami) should also contribute.

New Orleans also is eying a big season, following a second straight losing campaign (10-15). Its opponents in the Southland Conference agree, tabbing UNO second in the conference preseason poll.

Returning guard Troy Green (15.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg) is a first-team preseason all-conference pick, and he heads up a core group that including guards Derek St. Hilaire (12.3 ppg).

The group of returnees will pair with five talented transfers. Junior guard Daniel Sackey started 22 of 25 games at Valparaiso, while sophomore forward Tyson Jackson was on the Conference USA all-freshman team at Middle Tennessee State.

“This is a special team,” head coach Mark Slessinger said. “As you coach over the years, you sometimes just get that feeling in your gut that you know it’s going to be special, and this is a team that’s like that.”

–Field Level Media

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