First, though, there’s a pit stop along the way.
Ole Miss faces Loyola Marymount tonight at 10 p.m. CST in Los Angeles, Calif., in a game to be broadcast by ESPNU. It’s the second road game of the season for the Rebels, who suffered their only loss of the season at Middle Tennessee State nearly two weeks ago.
“We know they’re going to be well-prepared,” Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. “We know as we travel west and play in their home environment, it’s going to be a big opportunity for them. We have to approach it as such.
“My hope is we can garner some momentum, break through on the road for the first time and give us some momentum we need as we take the four-hour trip west from Los Angeles to Honolulu, where we’ll play three big games in four days on a national stage. We’ll know a lot more about our team.”
The Rebels, 7-1 overall, are fresh off a 77-55 win over East Tennessee State. Ole Miss will spend the holidays in Hawaii, with its first game of the tournament against Indiana State on Dec. 22, followed by the winner of San Diego State-San Francisco a day later.
The Rebels are scheduled to play on Christmas day, against an opponent yet to be determined.
“When we go to Honolulu, it’s going to be different,” Kennedy said. “It’s probably the first time any of our guys have been there. But I like these trips because typically it’s a great bonding experience for your team. You travel together, you eat together, you work together, you’re around one another 15, 16 hours a day.
“These tournament settings, where you’re playing three games in four days, it’s intense basketball over a short period of time. I think you can learn a lot of things about your group. This is a situation we felt was good for us and this team. I’m excited about the opportunity it presents.”
Ole Miss rates highly in the latest NCAA national stats as it readies for its West Coast road trip.
The Rebels rank third in the nation in scoring margin (24.6), sixth in turnover margin (6.8), eighth in scoring (82.6), field goal percentage defense (35.1) and steals (10.8). Ole Miss is 10th in 3-point field goal percentage defense (24.6) and 13th in blocks (6.1).
But for Kennedy, there are a number of areas “that drive me crazy,” namely ball security and an occasional lack of focus.
Ole Miss has turned the ball over 104 times this season, including a combined 32 times in its last two games.
“I’ve been pleased with our effort, for the most part,” he said. “I’ve been pleased with the energy level we’ve brought, for the most part. We’re doing a lot of good things, there’s just areas of focus that (we) need to improve upon … in order for us to be the team that I think we can be.
“My hope as we get ready to head west, our guys will understand the value of the ball in order for us to win games in these tough environments on the road.”
Loyola Marymount (5-4) is led by junior guard Anthony Ireland, who Kennedy said is “without question the best guard” Ole Miss has faced all season and “quite possibly as good as we’ll play all year.”
Ireland is averaging 21.1 points per game.
“I expect it to be very challenging,” Kennedy said. “That was the reason we scheduled it as such. Marymount has a team that’s talented.”