Now that the Rebels have been virtually eliminated from contention in the Big Dance by national pundits, it's time to really take a look at the map for how it could still, theoretically, happen.
Will it call for a 16-0 SEC record? Well, not necessarily, but that would do it. A 14-2 record would get the Rebels in as well, as would a win the conference tournament.
But any of the above notions are very, very long shots. What the Rebels need to achieve a tournament berth is a few breaks to go their way and consistently healthy players. Click the jump to see whatever type of analysis we can muster on this, the eve of conference play.
Breakdown of SEC West (early morning RPI via Warren Nolan)
It's fair to say Ole Miss has the target on its back. We’re defending SEC West co-champs and have, by far, the best resumé this season.
Arkansas and Mississippi State most likely hold the best chances to challenge the Rebels for SEC West supremacy. Arkansas was most recently severely dominated by Texas and has been unable to notch any quality wins so far, but they have taken care of business against lower RPI foes – which could ensure a solid record playing against terrible SEC West teams twice.
Mississippi State still has Renardo "Swingin'" Sidney and Dee Bost on its roster and will undoubtedly make some kind of a run in conference play or the conference tournament. It's just what Stansbury does best. Throw out any notions of the Bulldogs from their existing record and games, because Bost and Sidney could be massive gamechangers for MSU.
The only way Alabama, Auburn or LSU wins the division is if they're been playing possum up until this point of the season. None have looked impressive in any way (though Auburn's victory at home vs. Fla. St. was shocking). The only danger is that basketball teams tend to get better as the season progresses, so an away loss could be likely if the Rebels’ shooting runs cold against one of these three.
Alabama (8-6, RPI: 210)
Arkansas (10-3, RPI: 140)
Auburn (7-7, RPI: 323)
LSU (8-7) RPI: 243)
Mississippi State (8-6, RPI: 242)
Ole Miss (12-3, RPI: 55)
Breakdown of SEC East (early morning RPI via Warren Nolan)
The six match-ups against the SEC East will define success for Ole Miss in 2011. Going 3-3 would be the best rule of thumb this year: even if it was wins over South Carolina in Columbia, Georgia and Tennessee – both in Oxford – it would allow for at least one quality win (UT), a resumé building win (UGA) and an expected win (USC). Tennessee is seen as the best low-hanging fruit as Bruce Pearl will not be on the bench for the Vols game in Oxford.
Obviously, wins over Florida in Gainesville, Kentucky in Oxford or Vanderbilt in Nashville would be gigantically huge, but none of these three are very likely. Florida is coming off one of its best games of the year (a blow-out of Rhode Island), and the Rowdy Reptiles (see: look, there are other terrible student section names) will give UF a strong home court advantage this Saturday.
Kentucky is once again the RPI giant they almost always are and would boost Ole Miss' chances for the big dance significantly, but Calipari knows the Tad Pad well enough and has a superior enough team to escape with a win. It always seems to happen that way, but a win is not out of the realm of possibility.
Vanderbilt has the most awkward basketball stadium in the world (ok, I've been to one in Turkmenistan where chickens and goats had to be scurried off frequently; maybe worse) and it's just very difficult to win in Nashville even if Vandy is not a solid team – which they are proving to be with wins over Marquette and UNC, losses to only Mizzou and West Virginia.
Georgia- (11-2; RPI: 58)
Florida- (11-3; RPI: 13)
Kentucky- (12-2; RPI: 5)
South Carolina- (9-4; RPI: 160)
Tennessee- (10-4; RPI: 27)
Vanderbilt- (11-2; RPI: 16)
Best case scenario: The Rebels run through the SEC West mostly unscathed and notch a 9-1 record with a loss either in Starkville or Fayetteville then post a .500 record against SEC East opponents finishing 12-4 overall. Hoping for a 13-3 or 14-2 is really out there at this point. That would be putting Ole Miss at 25 or 26 regular season wins and an unbelievable run of consistency and good luck.
Likely scenario: A couple SEC West upsets leaves the Rebels with a 7-3 division record and a 2-4 finish against Eastern teams puts Ole Miss at an uninspiring 9-7 conference and 21-10 season. An injury or lack of consistency could easily put the Rebels in this category.
Worst case scenario: A loss to Georgia and terrible road losses to SEC west opponents put the Rebels below .500 in conference play. This is only in the cards because of the poor play seen in Cancun. A repeat in any way of that kind of effort in conference play with any kind of consistency would mean complete disaster for the Rebels season.