Monday, April 15, 2013
Andy Kennedy needs to thank Badgers
By Eamonn Brennan
If there was a common meme underlying Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson's various antics his regular-season Auburn-bro-taunting jersey-popping, his Internet photos with alcoholic beverages, his brief postseason flirtation with something like mainstream sports fame, his be-middle-fingered departure from the NCAA tournament's first weekend besides "this dude's crazy!" and "I wonder if I can be the first one to make a GIF of that, for then I shall bathe in a sea of retweets!" it was the one where everyone realized maybe part of the reason Henderson was allowed to do whatever he wanted was because Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy's job was very much on the line.
A late-season run, including an NCAA tourney win, helped coach Andy Kennedy earn a new contract at Ole Miss.
Before we go any further, these are not the words of a scold. A lot of the things that rubbed people the wrong way about Henderson were sort of thrilling to me. You can't bemoan modern players' lack of personality and then blanche when the kid wants to have an adult beverage after a first-round tournament win. There are lines, obviously, and the line is probably short of "flipping off the entire crowd after you lose because they said something mean to you." But still. Get over it.
Anyway, as all of that was happening back on that glorious first tournament weekend, there was a certain subtext attached: This chicanery is only being allowed because Henderson is going to -- pause for dramatic effect -- save Andy Kennedy's job.
On Friday, Ole Miss announced Kennedy had signed a new four-year contract, the maximum allowed for state employees, worth $1.8 million per year. Previously, Kennedy made $1.4 million. And so the prophecy had been fulfilled: Henderson was worth all the craziness, all the explanations to media and live-TV scoldings, because he had saved his coach's job.
Except that it's not quite that simple. Yes, Henderson's outside shooting gave Ole Miss a weapon it desperately needed on the perimeter these past, what, five years? Pairing him with big men Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner gave the Rebels a new dynamic they hadn't had in a while, and while Henderson was hardly a model of efficiency (he made 138 of his 394 [!] 3s and shot just 45 .8 percent inside the arc, too) he finished the season with a 113.5 offensive rating on 27.9 percent usage and a 31.6 shot percentage. That's a pretty solid year.
Even so, Ole Miss was a bubble team from January on. In the waning days of the season, the Rebels' at-large tournament odds dwindled to the extent that their run through the SEC tournament where Florida became the only "marquee" victory in the field anyway eventually became a necessity. And while the Rebels pulled it off, it wasn't like Henderson played all that well -- he had more turnovers (seven) than made field goals (six).
Which brings us to the whole point of this story: If Kennedy is in any way going to credit Henderson (and his teammates, obviously) for saving his hide, he better be sending something nice to Bo Ryan's office at Wisconsin, too. Because not only did Ole Miss break Kennedy's tenure-long tournament drought, it got its first NCAA tournament victory in 12 years thanks pretty much primarily to the fact that Wisconsin couldn't lob a pebble into Lake Mendota.
Seriously: Wisconsin, a top-30 efficiency offense for most of the season, finished with .74 points per possession in its lone tournament game of 2013. Traeveon Jackson and Jared Berggren combined to shoot 1-of-13 inside the arc; Ben Brust and Sam Dekker went 4-of-19 from beyond it. The Badgers had one worse performance, a dreadful outing at Michigan State, a month or so prior all season. Henderson, meanwhile, missed 16 of his first 17 shots. He made a couple of key 3s in the late going that helped Ole Miss build a lead, but let's be real. Dude finished with 19 points on 21 shots. That's not exactly single-handedly willing your coach to his four-year extension.
I have a feeling this meme will continue, particularly when we get to November and December and get to see the new and slightly less insane Henderson in action. But if you're going to credit Henderson with saving his coach's job, let's give some love to the Wisconsin Badgers, too. They shot Kennedy into a four-year extension. A fruit basket is the least he could do.