If enough basketball is good, then too much basketball must be better, right? That seems to be Andy Kennedy and company's mantra heading into the SEC Tournament in Nashville, where the Rebels' latest failure against Vandy means they missed out on a 3-seed and the double bye that comes with it. The late season skid also means Ole Miss still has work to do to ensure what was once thought to be a sure-fire NCAA Tournament bid.
The tourney picture appears downright chaotic from where the Rebels now stand. The Big Dance is a mere week away and this tailspinning Ole Miss bunch needs to take a good, long look in the mirror. Straighten your tie; is that dirt on your pants? What kinda bar brawl you been in? It's time to pull the chute's ripcord on this free-fall, boys, and Stefan Moody's new Howell Trophy can't do it alone.
Ole Miss will take it easy in Nashville during a first-round bye, then face the winner of South Carolina vs. Missouri. Win that, and it's on to Georgia, who have already knocked the Rebs down twice this season. The good news is that AK's group won't have to see Kentucky until the conference championship, by which time a ticket to the Dance will be long-since punched.
For the complete bracket and schedule, give this a click.
The Rebs need another win to be safe.
By most counts, the Rebs are firmly planted on the precarious bubble (Lunardi, that begrudging optimist, still lists Ole Miss as a 10-seed, as does SB Nation's own Chris Dobbertean), and the frothy mania of riding the bubble this time of year seethes after that Great Unknown: the Rebel roundballers have played unstoppable basketball in fits and starts this season, but have they, in the event of a conference tourney disaster, played unstoppable basketball consistently enough? If the Rebs get offed by Cocky or Mizzou, does their battered résumé still pass muster?
A win on Thursday should preclude these deliberations and a further win on Saturday would all but put them to bed. Having peaked at just the right time, Georgia is by now a tournament lock at or around a 10-seed. A prospective re-rematch with the Bulldogs on Saturday, then, would offer Sunday Selectors a larger body of work from which to pull when sizing up the Rebels for Big Dance bidding. In fact, at this point, Ole Miss should relish every minute of basketball available to them in order to prolong their closing arguments as much as possible.
The short of it is this: win the first one and the Rebs are in. Lose it and things get reeeeeal sketchy.
First thing's first: How do South Carolina and Missouri stack up?
A glance over both teams' marks in the major analytics shows Cocky with a decisive edge:
|NCAA RPI Rank (ESPN)
|ESPN BPI Rank
|KenPom AdjO (Rank)
|KenPom AdjD (Rank)
It's no secret that Mizzou is playing terrible basketball this year, and Cocky's defensive efficiency looks set to gobble up an anemic Tiger offense on Wednesday. Assuming that South Carolina gets by Mizzou, then, the Rebels should expect to have their hands full on Thursday -- despite a SCAR squad that's dropped games to Auburn, Bama and Florida this year. In their season finale at Tennessee, to be sure, the Gamecocks held the Vols to a paltry 49 points.
If the last three weeks have taught the Rebel faithful anything, however, it's that AK-led squads cannot let things roll out easily. It's hard expect the unexpected when the unexpected is somehow expected in the first place. That heady euphoria of the six wins in a row is long gone, and the Rebs have struggled to resettle their run-and-gun identity. Matters are further complicated by the fact that Ole Miss hasn't seen the Gamecocks in ages. Both squads are doubtless very different teams since their lone meeting this season, and the Rebels' win all the way back in January has very little to teach the boys here in March (someone named Jarvis Summers hung 20 dang points that night).
This week, then, marks that point of no return on the Rebels' tourney altimeter: pull the cord and float gently into the Big Dance, or crash land at the NIT. Hotty damn Toddy.