With the eyes of much of Rebel nation tuned into ABC for yesterday's SEC tournament semifinal matchup between the Ole Miss Rebels and Vanderbilt Commodores, a certain sense of urgency or necessity surrounded the Rebel basketball program and its fans. We and they knew that if they were to win, then they'd be in; were they to lose, then a lot, including simple luck and mercy, would be necessary for Ole Miss to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002.
The players played incredibly heard, the coaches threw everything they had at their opponents, and Rebel fans at home and in New Orleans were excited and energetic - but none of that would ensure an Ole Miss victory. The Rebels lost, 65 to 53.
After two absolutely exhausting games, including an incredibly hard-fought overtime win against Tennessee, the Ole Miss Rebels simply didn't have what they needed to play a full 40 minutes of basketball against the Commodores, especially not with Vanderbilt's incredibly talented John Jenkins playing at a level unto himself. The 'Dores were simply a talented, organized, and fresh ballclub, something which our exhausted bunch of underachievers couldn't overcome.
I've got to give our squad credit, though. The past few weeks have been very, very exciting ones for Ole Miss basketball fans. Finishing the season by winning five of the last six games and getting within striking distance of an SEC tournament championship is absolutely huge for this team, the program, and its fans. Hats off to Andy Kennedy and staff for making the right decisions over the past few weeks, including the suspension of Jelan Kendrick. Hats off to Terrence Henry, Murphy Holloway, Jarvis Summers, Nick Williams, Reginald Buckner, and others for playing smart, aggressive, inspired basketball. Hats off to everyone who supported this team during this exciting run.
I would have loved for them to have beaten Vanderbilt, but even though they didn't, I can't say I'm not proud of their effort and determination, and I'm certainly excited that they were able to put something together late and show the rest of the SEC just how capable this team and program really are.
The important question though, as exciting as it may have been, is will this late season run be enough to get into the Big Dance, though?
Ole Miss is as prototypical a bubble team as ever, with a 20-13 (10-9) record and a top-50 RPI. The Rebels, though, do not have the "good" wins necessary to make it over the hump, as far as I can tell. If Ole Miss were to have beaten Alabama in overtime in Tuscaloosa, they'd be in. If Ole Miss were to have maintained the home court lead held over Florida early in the season, instead of losing in the final minutes, they'd be in. If Ole Miss had beaten MTSU and USM out of conference, they'd be in.
To be frank, our Ole Miss had a lot of opportunities to ensure a berth in the NCAA tournament, and came up short in damn near every one of them. I think that'll be enough for the committee to turn down our Rebels yet again.
I would love to be wrong, though. We'll find out this evening, once selection Sunday comes to a close. Until then, Hotty Toddy, and thank you Rebel basketball for becoming exciting again.