Sunday, April 22, 2018
Colleges

Ole Miss Rebels challenge: Playing for nothing

DESTIN — Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze faces a near-impossible task this season.

How do you motivate a team that went 5-7 and has no possibility of making a bowl game?

"One of the greatest challenges I'll have in my career," Freeze said during this week's SEC spring meetings.

The on-field troubles are hard enough to overcome. Consider where the Rebels were 20 months ago.

When they entered Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, they were two weeks removed from upsetting No. 2 Alabama on the road. Their No. 3 ranking was tied for the program's highest in the last half-century.

Then the Will Grier-led Gators routed Ole Miss 38-10.

Last year, Ole Miss never recovered from their second-half collapse against Florida State in the opener in Orlando.

And now the cloud of an NCAA investigation continues to hang over Oxford. The Ole Miss administration has supported Freeze, even in the face of 21 allegations of misconduct. The saga is ongoing, but it has already resulted in the Rebels self-imposing a bowl ban for this season.

To get through it, Freeze is seeking some outside counsel.

He has been in touch with Jim Grobe, who salvaged a bowl appearance from Baylor's ongoing sexual assault scandal. He talked with NASCAR driver Ricky Stenhouse, a Mississippi native who needed 158 NASCAR Cup races to get his first win (three weeks ago at Talladega). Terry Bowden, who took Auburn to an undefeated season in 1993 despite a postseason ban is on the list, too.

With nothing to play for (and nothing to lose), Freeze said he might be more inclined to take risks: "Maybe a little more apt to go for it on fourth down than you would've been. That'll be interesting."

UF building on Elite Eight: Florida basketball coach Mike White hasn't noticed many differences since last season's run to the Elite Eight.

"Overall I would say the only slight change is our recruiting base — and that includes parents and coaches and AAU coaches — they were excited for us," White said. "They're excited for the direction we're in and the health of the Florida Gators."

UF has since landed two pretty big recruits (sort of). C John Egbunu chose to return to school instead of entering the NBA draft. He's on track to return from a torn ACL in January.

The Gators also picked up F Egor Koulechov, a grad transfer from Rice who made 47 percent of his 3-pointers last season.

"It probably helped us snatch a guy like Egor, who was in very high demand," White said of the deep NCAA Tournament run.

Calipari one-and-dones: Why doesn't Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari change his philosophy of loading a roster with one-and-done stars?

"I've had people say, 'Why won't you take a top-60 or top-70 (player)?' " he said. "You know those kids think they're one and done, too.

"I'd rather coach the guy that has a chance to be one and done and thinks he's one and done than a guy that has no chance of being one and done, looking at me like you're not playing me enough, if I shot it more, if you let me handle the ball more. I'm just recruiting the best players."

Quick hits: Expect a decision this afternoon on a grad transfer proposal that (if passed) would allow ex-Notre Dame QB Malik Zaire to join the Gators. … Arkansas coach Bret Bielema expects 75-90 percent of his recruits to sign at the new early signing window in December. … Calipari on SEC basketball: "It's our turn now."

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