The Ole Miss women's basketball team was on a whirlwind romance with the top spot in the SEC, but now the two have likely broken up for good after a 64-50 loss at South Carolina. But my thinking here is: that's okay. I don't think anyone expected the Lady Rebels to be SEC champions, and for this group that hasn't made the NCAA tourney since Armintie's departure, that's not really the goal.
Games like last night happen in the SEC. South Carolina is a decent team with a not so decent record. Their RPI is 35 and they have four top 50 wins. If we go on the road to a decent team the least bit out of sync, we've got a good chance to lose. Especially when our star is sickly and only scores 8 points.
This is when the Lady Rebels have to show us what they've got. This is the time that we'll see if their success was a nice, two-week Cinderella story or if they're actually a legitimate contender for the NCAA tournament. And it starts Sunday. I will give a little rundown of the rest of the season, indicating what our chances are to make a run the rest of the way.
January 31st: Florida (11-9, 4-3)
Florida is a weird team. They've got an RPI of 91 and have lost to Florida A&M, High Point, and (the cardinal sin of SEC teams) Alabama (by 24!). However, they also won at Mississippi State, beat South Carolina, and lost by 2 to Tennessee. In other words, they're impossible to figure out. But this is a game we simply have to have. We cannot afford to lose a winnable home game. Bouncing back from that tough SC (that's South Carolina for all those people who think SC is more associated with Southern California than the state) loss is essential. A win here would put us at 6-2 at the halfway mark.
February 4th: at Kentucky (17-3, 5-2)
Kentucky is ranked 13th in Sagarin's predictor: they're good. They're coming off a road win at LSU and also have win over Vanderbilt and a one point overtime loss to Georgia. Like us, they lost at South Carolina. This is a game that we cannot expect to win, but is one that I would hope we could compete in. Unfortunately, after the Arkansas game, this might be the most winnable road game we have left.
February 7th: at LSU (14-5, 3-4)
How good is LSU? They've lost four of their last five (including to us), but are theoretically a good team. Sagarin's predictor still has them 11th. This is certainly a game you cannot expect to win, especially with the whole revenge factor working against us. Is it a possibility, though? Could LSU continue to reel with two more road games between now and this game (granted, one is at Alabama) and we find ourselves on top again? I suppose it's possible, and how sweet would it be? Gotta count it as a loss though for now.
February 11th: Tennessee (18-2, 6-1)
I have a friend at State (I know...) who dabbles in women's basketball and declared their game at home against Tennessee the biggest game in their program's history. When the game and they could be SEC champions. They had a huge crowd of nearly 6000 show up. And guess what: they got slaughtered, down 21 at halftime and 27 final. This little anecdote is simply meant to convey one point: don't mess around with Tennessee. They are not unbeatable by any means; Florida lost by only 2, Vanderbilt took them to the wire, Georgia beat them. But if you're not in tip top form, you'll get smeared. I hate that we play them twice and don't get a more winnable home game, but that's the card we're dealt, and we just have to play it the best we can.
February 15th: at Mississippi State (14-7, 5-3)
State is another one of those oddly unpredictable teams. They beat Georgia last night and have beaten Vanderbilt twice, but they also have the aforementioned trouncing by Tennessee, a home loss to Florida, and an uninspired loss to us on the resume. Similar to LSU, it's an accomplishment that we beat State once and can cross our fingers for a repeat, but not count on it. I would bet State comes out ready to play against us this time.
February 18th: at Arkansas (9-11, 1-6)
This is the most important road game of the season for us, because Arkansas is so not good. Their only SEC win has come in an overtime victory at Alabama and they have already lost four SEC home games. Over the past few years, games at Arkansas have been manageable for us, so hopefully that will continue. With so few games left in the expected win column, this is one we simply have to have.
February 21st: Vanderbilt (15-6, 4-4)
An interesting case, this Vanderbilt (where my tuition is currently going). For those of you who don't know, Vanderbilt is a very good women's basketball program, and seems to be 9-5 or better every year (14 game schedule was the norm until this year). But this year the team has been inconsistent, going 4-5 over its last 9 games after starting 11-1. During that nine game stretch, they were the first team to defeat Georgia, but also lost twice to Mississippi State. Of course, they also beat us by 14 the first conference game of the season. This, though, is another case where it may be a tough game, but we simply have to have it. A home game against a mid-level NCAA tourney team is a must for a team trying to claw its way into the tournament.
February 25th: Auburn (11-10, 2-6)
Auburn was dominant in the SEC last year, going 30-4 overall and 12-2 in conference. But this is a very different Auburn team without amazing, all-everything, super-dominant, freakishly tall and skinny DeWanna Bonner leading the way. Instead, this team is kinda bad. Their RPI is actually above ours at 64, but they've lost 7 of 9 including an 11 point loss to San Diego State, 15 to Mississippi State, 14 to South Carolina, 18 to Kentucky, and 29 to Tennessee. This is probably the easiest game left on the schedule, but I have flashbacks to Armintie's last year when Senior Day ended with a disgusting loss to an Auburn team that didn't even make the tournament. Be on guard, Rebels, but win this one.
February 28th: at Tennessee (18-2, 6-1)
Yes, here we are, ending the season in the worst way possible. Everything I said still applies, just that more intensified with the game away.
If you're doing the math, I declared 4 games remaining that we must win and 5 where we wouldn't be favored. This would put our record at 18-11, 9-7. On the surface, that looks like it'd be good enough to make it to the tournament, maybe with a win in the SEC tourney, but here's the catch: RPI.
We're currently sitting at 80, and just winning the games we should win is not going to do much to move us up. We really need to pull one out of the hat somewhere along the way to put us at a 10-6 number that could probably not be ignored. How much good would a victory over #9 Ohio State done us? (We were up 10 with two and a half minutes to play...not kidding.)
We are still a team with a lot left to prove, and we can certainly do it if we play at the level we did over the five game winning streak. However, we are on an extremely slippery slope, and one miscue could put us back in the NIT.
Starting with Sunday's game against Florida, it's time for the Lady Rebels to show us the team they really are.