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Stefan Moody deserved the NCAA Tournament, but he couldn't do it by himself

The SEC's leading scorer and the greatest player of the Andy Kennedy era didn't have the help he needed to go dancing as a senior.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It was disappointingly apt that Stefan Moody's SEC career in an Ole Miss uniform ended not with a bang, but with a quiet fouling out in the second round of an SEC Tournament. That Avery Johnson and Retin Obasohan went out of their way to hug and thank the conference's best gunner on his way to the bench speaks volumes to the respect Moody commanded on the hardwood, where he consistently found ways of doing very much with very little.

With the Rebels' NIT chances still up in the air, Moody may have played his last game for Ole Miss. Either way, the greatest player of the Andy Kennedy era won't be making the return trip to the NCAA Tourney that his prolific senior season should have earned him.

Young Moody's 731 points in the 2015-16 season were sixth best in the NCAA. Within the SEC, his scoring outpaced second-place Jamal Murray's 619 by a large margin, but most strikingly, Moody accounted for a full 30.3 percent of the Rebels' 2,405 points this year. It's frankly astonishing that percentage wasn't higher.

Moody's evolution into the player he became stems back to him biding his time through a stint at Florida Atlantic before getting a chance at major conference ball in Oxford. It's a testament to his demeanor and stoicism that he rode out getting passes from top-tier clubs due to his 5'10 height or whatever, only to turn into one of the country's most electric snipers. Re-watch any network broadcast from this year's Ole Miss team and let the announcers' awe at Moody's hops wash over you. It's surreal.

Moody's evolution at Ole Miss begins—as so many things do—with Marshall Henderson. The scoring output of each guy during his two years in Oxford is separated by a single point (1,294 to 1,293 in favor of Moody), but Stefan was easily the more impactful player. Hendo was asked only to be a shooter, whereas Moody was needed everywhere to do everything, especially in his senior season when he moved from shooting guard to point man.

That transition was rocky at first. Previously, Moody lived off the dish and pop play, accepting assists from Jarvis Summers off the screen and shooting in the face of his defender. That was a comfortable pairing, Summers and Moody, the one a calculating field marshal, the other a shooter's shooter. With Summers' departure, it seemed that Stefan would have to wear both hats, what with his myriad experience and overabundance of supreme talent.

Moody led the conference in points in his final season, but he also led the conference in turnovers with 118 (Ben Simmons was second with 105). This is a function not of Moody's ball handling or decision making, but rather the necessary risk of running the offense through one player. If Hendo sketched out the blueprint for an Andy Kennedy offense, Moody perfected it. Stef's 133 assists in his senior year are better than Marshall's 124 in two seasons combined at Ole Miss, a declarative statement of just how much of the basketball burden the former was called to carry.

He was fourth best in the conference in steals with 46, because why not.

Perhaps the most impressive feature of Moody's evolving game was his turn into a Barry Sanders sort of presence on the court. It became obvious through December and then January that Stef was going to draw anyone—regardless of height, weight, team or creed—into contact, that taking hits around the basket only fueled the fire, that a diminutive perimeter guy should be shooting 256 free throws on the year, second only to Ben Simmons' 284. A silent chip on the shoulder that could lull one to incredulity until the time that Number 42 finally came dropping out of the sky.

As Stephen Curry is fundamentally changing the way basketball is played and how we watch it, so has Moody taken note. As a student of the game and the game's masters, Moody's workout and shooting regimen adapted to its future. Moody saw that "range" is a relative concept, inscribed out of habit, defined by years of statistics and analytics that are, after all, of human invention. What if, say, 35 feet isn't that far away? Curry asks, night after night, and Moody agrees whole-heartedly. There are very few more aesthetically fulfilling experiences than watching Stefan when he's really cooking, pulling up from the logo and just burying a trey with all the nonchalance of mailing a rent check.

That this tiny, bullish magician did so much with the cast around him is remarkable. The 2015 tournament team benefited from a deeper bench and more experience than 2016's team, and one 5'10 sharpshooter can only create to a limit, but push those limits Stefan Moody did, and it's head-shakingly appropriate that he wasn't served better.