In what was a rather chaotic, and thus quintessentially March Madness type of weekend, the nation's tournament-hungry teams looked to stuff their regular-season plates before the conference championships kick off next weekend. Ole Miss entered the fray feeling darn good about their post-season prospects, but consecutive losses to Georgia and LSU betrayed chinks in the Rebel armor that have NCAA Tournament prognosticators doubting the Basketbears' moxie.
Ole Miss nosedived in the NCAA's RPI rankings over the last seven days, down 14 spots to No. 48 as of Monday's release (ESPN, as ever, is more generous and has the Rebels at No. 47). LSU, for their part, leapfrogged the Rebs to No. 45, following what was -- for all intensive purposes -- a thwacking in Baton Rouge. To be sure, Saturday's tailspin felt like the perfect companion piece to an equally atrocious shooting night against Georgia, and all told, the Rebels shot 37 percent from the field in the two-game span.
Despite Ole Miss shooters going cold, and despite two ugly, late-season losses, the Rebs are still in the hunt for a March Madness invite, assuming they can pick up the pieces against Bama and Vandy this week.
The Rebs look like a 9 or 10-seed
Whereas ESPN's Joe Lunardi -- who totally doesn't wear a toupee, you guys -- considered the Rebels as high as a 7-seed last week, Monday sees the worldwide leader's human calculator dropping Ole Miss to a 9-seed in the West beneath an on-the-rise Villanova group. Given Iowa's two wins last week and the B1G's all-around smashmouth performance, Lunardi has the Rebs against the Hawkeyes in the round of 64.
CBS Sports' Jerry Palm likewise sees the Rebs as a 9-seed, opening play in the Duke-led South region against a punchy Ohio State squad. Dave Ommen at NBC Sports, meanwhile, holds Ole Miss at a 10-seed in his West projection, squaring off with an up-and-down Sparty bunch. USA Today's Shelby Mast thinks least of the Rebels this week and places them at an 11-seed in the Kentucky-headlined Midwest region against an SMU team that's bounced around the season's 20-25 ranks for weeks now.
The Rebs must beat Bama and Vandy
All of this crystal-balling of course comes with the must-win caveats. EOTC Hugh Kellenberger spoke with Jerry Palm and Shelby Mast, who agree that Ole Miss' destiny hangs in the upcoming two-game balance. These contests won't be easy. Bama's No. 83 and Vandy's No. 97 RPI rankings are rather deceiving, since both teams weigh much nearer to Ole Miss in the advanced stats. To wit:
|NCAA RPI Rank||KenPom Rank||Adjusted Offense (Rank)||Adjusted Defense (Rank)|
|Ole Miss||48||40||113.0 (19th)||99.3 (111th)|
|Alabama||83||59||107.0 (73rd)||95.9 (59th)|
|Vanderbilt||97||44||112.3 (28th)||99.2 (109th)|
That regular season closer with Vanderbilt sure seems dangerous, and to be sure, the Commodores are riding a three-game winning streak under a coach who may quite literally rip a player's head off his shoulders mid-battle should things turn south.
Let's be real: only a meteor strike in northern Kentucky is going to unseat the Wildcats as SEC Tournament favorites this year. That said, this week is when the Rebs' Big Dance hopes will be fulfilled or dashed. Last year's field general Jarvis Summers is slowly slipping into game-manager territory, and Ole Miss' recent perimeter play has exposed the Achilles heel that we knew about all along: Stefan Moody -- workhorse and clutchman that he is -- cannot carry this team by his lonesome. The question now becomes: who will step up and help a brother out?