Yesterday's loss in Knoxville absolutely ripped souls out of Rebel fans across Mississippi. It's the worst possible way to lose. You know your team had chances to win with time expiring, but just did not execute well enough when it mattered the most. Ole Miss didn't protect a double digit lead against a solid UT team. It's just another game left unfinished offensively and defensively and the fourth loss of the year.
But basketball is different from football, however, for the Chicken Little's screaming shortly after the game. Taking this loss with the proper perspective is about changing from a football mentality to a basketball mentality.
It's been 34 years since the last Division-I college basketball team was perfect for the year. The 1976 Indiana Hoosiers won every single game on the way to a national championship.
UNLV nearly did it in 1991 but lost to Duke in the Final Four.
Illinois came close a few seasons ago, going 37-2 in 2005, the most wins for any basketball team ever.
"Alright, one Man, so why are you telling us all of this?" Because basketball is not football, and a lot of y'all have yet to realize this.
When you lose in football, there's plenty of reason to believe championships, the postseason, or any chances at a great season have dissolved with the clock on the scoreboard.
Basketball, however, does allow teams to drop games here and there, go on streaks, and gives 65 teams the chance to win a national championship. All it takes is six wins in a row in March and that's it, you're the best in the land.
I know you're probably saying, "but we can't even win two in a row in January." Come on. You know that nearly all of our preseason discussion for basketball predicted losses to UK and UT, and while I realize you may be frustrated, the closeness of our loss in Knoxville is indicative of how far this program has come under Kennedy.
We're 13-4 after 17 games and 1-2 in conference play. At this point last year, we were 11-7 with a 1-2 conference record. In 2007-2008, we were 15-2 with a 2-2 conference record. Our team has a long way to go to complete this season and so many things can happen to "make" or "break" everything we've accomplished thus far. And really, with the nature of March Madness, once you've made it to the tournament all bets are off.
But, even in that context, there's still speculation that yesterday's loss means UT will definitely get a higher seed in the tourney. Well, we could face them in the SEC tournament and capture victory. This would negate a road loss against the Vols. But even at that rate, so long as we make it to March, Tennessee's seeding versus our seeding will be a trivial matter for our respective teams.
It's absolutely frustrating losing to good teams by very small margins. Ghost told me he'd much rather get beaten by 40 than lose by 2 in overtime. I understand that sentiment, but the close losses/wins are what makes college basketball great.
Yesterday, we saw some good and bad things. We saw how well Zach Graham plays under the pressure of playing a top 10 team when he gets the playing time. We also saw that Chris Warren is not a robot who is unstoppable and that he needs Terrico White to step up and offer something in the clutch. So we're not a perfect team, but we're a legitimate ball team and a very competitive one at that. Nobody has yet embarrassed us and, save for Kentucky, no team remaining on our schedule conceivably could.
Don't give up on this team or believe they can't close out games. This is a team who beat Kansas State on a neutral site, came from behind three games in a row to be victorious and still has 10 or 11 winnable games left on their schedule.
Let the pain of the loss subside and know you're supporting a solid basketball team.