Thanks to the SEC's baseball tournament format change, enacted in the wake of the conference's recent expansion from 12 to 14 teams, the Ole Miss Rebels will be a part of the festivities in Hoover as the number nine overall seed* in spite of losing the final four games of the season in uncharacteristically embarrassing fashion.
After sweeping Tennessee, Ole Miss was in control of its own destiny as far as postseason seeding is concerned. Being that we are Ole Miss and such was a high-ish pressure situation, the team promptly lost to Arkansas State right before being swept by Vanderbilt, finishing the regular season on a bit of a low note. Regardless, though, this team's in the tournament, and here's what you need to know for the first round.
Here's your tournament bracket. As you can see, the Rebels begin with the first game of the tournament, a 9:30 AM (yes, a baseball game starting at nine thirty in the damned morning) game against the number four seed Kentucky. The Rebels did play the Wildcats in Lexington, losing a very close series 1-2, but their play in that series was enough to convince me that the Rebs could have a decent shot at knocking off the 'Cats in this one. The key to a win, as we all are well aware, is whether or not the Rebel bats will wake up and whether or not this team will be able to score in clutch situations - something which it was wholly unable to do against several teams this year, including Kentucky.
Tuesday's game two will be sometime after the conclusion of game one, whenever that may be, and it will be between the number six Arkansas Razorbacks and the number seven seeded Fightin' Chris Strattons of State. This is one to pay close attention to, because if we lose, we would then face the loser of this one in an elimination game. That means that it's quite possible that we're eliminated from this tournament by Mississippi State. I just wanted to make sure that those of you who frequent the highways and byways of the Magnolia State are prepared for the then inevitable "This is OUR elimination game in an otherwise meaningless baseball tournament" billboards.
If the Rebels win, though, they'll face SEC Champions LSU in the second round. Either way, this team really does have some work cut out for it, and they hopefully have a lot of baseball to play this week.
*The SEC baseball tournament used to feature the conference's eight best teams. It now features the conference's ten best teams. This means that, under the tournament's previous format, our Rebels wouldn't have been invited to participate this season. That would make two years in a row where Ole Miss would have missed the SEC Tournament and finished in the bottom third of the conference. Maybe we're a bit spoiled to take an SEC Tournament berth for granted, but this sort of finish and standing in the conference is pretty upsetting.