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What Ole Miss needs to do to make the NCAA Tournament

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As March bears down, let's take a look at where the Rebels stand as far as making the Big Dance.

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

With the lion's share of the SEC schedule under their belt, how is Ole Miss basketball sitting with respect to the Big Dance? The simple answer is, "They're in at probably an 8 or 9 seed," if the season ended today. But, of course, these answers are never simple, and the Rebs' remaining schedule holds some nasty traps that must be avoided come Selection Sunday.

As of the most recent bracket projections released Monday, ESPN pits Ole Miss as a favored 8-seed against Iowa, while CBSSports and USA Today slot the Rebels in a 9-seed against Temple. The recently snapped six-game win streak has certainly helped the Rebels concretize their place on most projected brackets, and their precarious 10-seed spot two weeks ago feels like ancient history at this point. And further, Ole Miss has clambered 18 spots up the NCAA RPI rankings since the Florida nudge that kickstarted it all, from 55th on January 24 to 37th Monday. Helluva run, boys.

Ole Miss in the RPI

There's some existential "do numbers really mean anything at all" anxiety when rating teams' quality down the stretch, and analytical metrics all mean squat on a long enough timeline. Still, RPI does factor into the selection committee's decisions, so let's look at Ole Miss' current RPI and the four teams on either side of the Rebels (I've here included the most recent NCAA calculation and ESPN/Joe Lundardi's):

Ole Miss in the RPI
NCAA RPI Rankings ESPN/Joe Lunardi RPI Rankings
Texas St. John's
Ohio State Ohio State
Cincinnati Michigan State
Michigan State UMass
(37) Ole Miss (38)
UCLA Cincinnati
UMass UCLA
Xavier Xavier
St. John's Illinois

The teams clustering around Ole Miss -- and thus fighting for the same handful of spots on the bracket -- include some perennial powerhouses, and that November win over Cincinnati sure seems helpful now. Looking over the Rebels' other big non-conference wins, Oregon's RPI is currently 60th (NCAA) and 61st (ESPN), while Creighton has dive-bombed down to 130th and 125th. As far as Ole Miss' current projected matchups in the tournament, Iowa is 56th in the NCAA RPI (55th at ESPN) and Temple sits 31st NCAA/33rd ESPN.

National RPI is informative as far as it goes, but at this point in the season, it's better to look at how the Rebs' RPI stacks up against the six remaining teams on the schedule.

RPIs of Remaining Opponents
Team NCAA RPI Rank Lunardi/ESPN RPI Rank
at Mississippi State 178 171
Tennessee 83 80
Georgia 32 30
at LSU 53 50
at Alabama 75 73
Vanderbilt 108 104

A good rule of thumb at this point in the season is to play well against teams that will seed around you in March; the reasoning is that, short of distinguishing yourselves from your peers, at least hang tight with the group. Taking a look at Ole Miss' upcoming RPI opponents, those Georgia and LSU match-ups start to feel mighty important, especially since CBS and ESPN are projecting the Bulldogs as an 8-seed (USA Today has them at 11) and the Tigers are hovering around the 9-10-11 line. As with Arkansas, Georgia's RPI has been lingering in the five-or-so spots above the Rebels since conference play began, and splitting the season series with both of those teams will hook Ole Miss into the top 40 RPIs on the year. On the other side, LSU has been hovering just below Ole Miss' RPI for weeks now, and a split series with the Tigers ought to allay suspicions about this Rebel squad playing down to their competition.

Barring a collapse at State, and praying for wins against Georgia and LSU, the Rebels could buy themselves some insurance against a possible tanking in Tuscaloosa.

Ole Miss in the Sagarin, KenPom and BPI ratings

On to the fancy stats. In Ken Pomeroy's most recent rankings, Ole Miss' adjusted offense quotient ranks a remarkable 16th (114.1 pts./100 poss.), while their adjusted defense quotient comes in at a middling 107th (giving up 98.7 pts./100 def. sets). Those marks match up inversely with Temple (101.0 AdjO, 184th; 89.7 AdjD, 8th) and more or less create a push with Iowa (111.8 AdjO, 31st; 97.8, 94th). Here are the KenPom, Sagarin, and ESPN BPI rankings for Ole Miss and the four teams on either side of the Rebels heading into this week:

Ole Miss' and Clustered Teams' Rankings in KenPom, Sagarin, and ESPN BPI
KenPom Rank Sagarin Rank ESPN BPI Rank
Arkansas St. John's Dayton
VCU Davidson Xavier
SDSU BYU SMU
West Virginia NC State Texas
Ole Miss (30) (39) (30)
LSU Georgia BYU
BYU Stanford Maryland
Dayton Dayton Florida
Florida Illinois Davidson

Those Georgia and LSU games keep looming. On Joe Lunardi's most recent projected bracket, Ole Miss will place into an 8-seed matchup against Iowa, whom KenPom ranks 38th, Sagarin ranks 33rd and BPI has 47th. Jerry Palm at CBSSports, however, likes the Rebels as a 9-seed against Temple (47th KenPom, 65th Sagarin, 61st BPI). For further comparison (confusion?), here's how Ole Miss' remaining opponents stack up in the KenPom, Sagarin, and BPI rankings:

Ole Miss' Remaining Opponents in the KenPom, Sagarin, and ESPN BPI Rankings
Opponent KenPom Rank Sagarin Rank ESPN BPI Rank
at Mississippi State 162 (99.0 AdjO, 99.1 AdjD) 148 137
Tennessee 101 (105.2 AdjO, 99.3 AdjD) 89 81
Georgia 35 (107.3 AdjO, 93.5 AdjD) 40 25
at LSU 31 (107.0 AdjO, 93.0 AdjD) 47 38
at Alabama 56 (105.8 AdjO, 95.2 AdjD) 59 58
Vanderbilt 50 (111.9 AdjO, 99.7 AdjD) 60 46

LSU especially tightens up with the Rebels here, with the result that the Clanga, LSU and Georgia scraps become must-win games. Alabama, too, at least on paper looks dangerous, while Vanderbilt's inexplicable jump from low 100s in the RPI to either side of 50 in the fancy stats defies belief. Just win, baby.

What do the Rebs need to do down the stretch?

Saturday's barnburner in the Tad Pad doesn't seem to have harmed the Rebs as they mosh through February and into the SEC Tournament. Arkansas is legit good this year -- a solid 5-seed at this point -- and their track-meet style of play gains high praise in the eyes of Sunday selectors. So what specifically should one demand from these Rebels down the stretch?

First: Jarvis Summers needs to step up. He practically disappeared during the win streak. His points-per-game average fell from 14.2 to 13.2 -- over the span of just seven outings. Shooting percentage is also telling: Jarvis is hitting just over 38 percent of his two-point field goals, which is a long way from the Jarvis of last season who shot just over 50 percent from the floor. Andy Kennedy has described Summers' trigger finger as "hesitant," and Saturday night's dish to Newby while down by one rings indicative of the larger issue.

While Summers finds more confidence off the dribble, other Rebel hoopsters must stay the course if this team should find the tournament. Anthony Perez, Dwight Coleby, and Saturday's Man of the Match M.J. Rhett all need to come strong in Starkville and beyond. The seemingly unbreakable Stefan Moody will continue to do what he does, and trusty old Snoop White, who's been on a wild tear lately, ought best keep hitting his field goals.

Martavious Newby has had some good showings the last couple weeks, and this pitbull of a guard loves to play physical ball. One hopes that his menace to opposing rebounders will thrive against the big, bad LSU's of the world.

It's somehow fortunate that the Rebels have only one player underperforming at the moment, and they've cobbled together some impressive basketball despite Jarvis' recent troubles. A guy like Summers -- the current active scoring leader in the SEC -- really just needs one night of solid hooping to turn his head around and devote himself to the task at hand, and what better place to do that than in Starkville?