February 15, 2011 8:57:00 AM
Andy Kennedy and the University of Mississippi men''s basketball team are in a familiar position.
At this point in each of Kennedy''s five years in Oxford, the Rebels have been in the middle of the Southeastern Conference''s Western Division.
They''ve also started the season in similar fashion and endured mid-season slumps.
This season, the Rebels (16-9, 4-6) lost five of their first six games, which mirrors their start in 2008-09, when they lost four of their first five.
Last season and in 2007-08, Ole Miss had a stretch where it lost five of six games.
Up until Saturday''s 10-point loss at SEC West leader University of Alabama, Ole Miss had won four of five SEC games and beaten No. 11 Kentucky.
Just one game out of second place -- which secures a first-round bye in the SEC tournament -- the Rebels are eyeing a strong finish beginning Wednesday against Auburn.
Five of Ole Miss'' six remaining games are against SEC West teams.
Ole Miss will play Saturday at Mississippi State. The Rebels are 3-8 against the Bulldogs under Kennedy.
"It seems every year it''s one game here or there," Kennedy said Monday. "There''s a lot of basketball that has to be played. We still play all of them (West teams), so a lot will be decided then."
To finish second in the West and have an easier shot at reaching the title game, the Rebels will need to discover a way to win when guard Chris Warren faces double teams.
Against the Crimson Tide, Warren was 2 of 10 from the field and had two assists. The Rebels fell behind by as much as 22 in the second half and shot just 36 percent.
Kennedy said Alabama did a good job of "corralling" Warren, who is 5-foot-10, and forcing him into help defense, where size can overwhelm him.
"My disappointment and what I continue to preach to our guys is Chris draws so much attention the other four guys need to use that to their advantage," Kennedy said. "We watched Chris way too much and standing around as he was drawing double and triple teams, as opposed to reacting and playing advantages off the ball.
"We got to do a better job playing off the attention that other teams are giving him."
UT still adjusting to Pearl''s return
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said his attempts to galvanize his Volunteers after a return from a league-mandated eight-game suspension have been mixed.
Pearl''s first game back was a 73-61 loss at Kentucky. His second was a 61-60 loss at Florida.
"It''s one thing to be there at practice and set the game plan, but it''s another thing to get to know your team again in a game situation," Pearl said. "Getting back to driving that bus was very disruptive. It''s taken a toll on us."
The losses capped a stretch in which Tennessee played six of its past eight games on the road. Tennessee faced Connecticut, Alabama, Kentucky, and Florida in that span and is on a three-game losing streak.
Pearl said he "helped" the Volunteers at Florida but was critical of his role against Kentucky.
"I don''t feel like I really helped at all at Kentucky," Pearl said. "Until you go through what we''re going through you can''t begin to understand when you''re suspended for half the league season how challenging that is for players and coaches."
Tennessee will play host South Carolina on Wednesday.