So maybe you’re like me and have already turned the page on football season.
Yes, I’ve got season tickets, tailgate in the Grove, parking pass money already spent, and I won’t miss any home games the remainder of the season. What an idiot, right?
But, the tingle on the back of the neck and the twisting knot in the stomach in anguish over what could be this football season are gone.
Ole Miss basketball has taken its place at the center of my mind, with Kermit Davis loading up for his first season in Oxford. Before the intense SEC schedule begins in 2019, Coach Davis and the Rebels have 13 non-conference foes to hone a new roster and find the glue that holds them together.
Looming early on in the season are three potential top 100 RPI games (based on previous end of season rankings): at Butler (No. 40) on Nov. 16, Baylor (No. 70) on Nov. 23, and potentially Cincinnati (No. 6) on Nov. 24. If Ole Miss beats Baylor on Nov. 23, it will play the winner of Cincinnati and George Mason in the Emerald Coast Classic in Destin, Fla.
The last time Ole Miss played in the ECC the Rebels beat Cincy for the title, so there’s something to tell your friends at Chili’s at lunch one day to show how big of a basketball nerd you are — you’re welcome.
But the rest of this non-conference schedule is fairly doable.
Outside of those three marquee matches and a Dec. 8 game at Illinois State in Normal (yeah, that’s a real city name), Ole Miss loaded its schedule with most likely RPI 150 and higher opponents.
The game that head coach Kermit Davis most likely wants to win is a neutral site game against his former employer Middle Tennessee State in Nashville. The Blue Raiders finished last season in the top 30 RPI, but they lost their best player and conference player of the year in Nick King. It’s likely that the team will be very motivated to win, but Coach Davis will certainly want to prove to his current employer they made the right move in hiring him.
Ole Miss will only play half of its non-conference slate in Oxford, with games in Destin, Nashville and Jackson, Miss., as well as two true road games planned. The good news here is that the two road games are against two of the higher rated RPI teams historically, Butler and Illinois St., which won’t cause as much of a blip on the resume if a loss occurs.
So what does it all mean as we hurtle toward another heart pounding basketball season? Ole Miss absolutely has to finish non-conference play with a 9-3 or better record to stay in contention for NCAA play. Losses to Butler, Baylor, Cincinnati and Illinois State would mean a bunch of wins from milquetoast and also-ran teams that likely won’t matter enough.
The Rebels have to find their stride quickly and knock off one of these four to make some noise early and come together as a team under a new coach.
Ole Miss basketball’s full non-conference schedule:
- Nov. 10 vs. Western Michigan - RPI 171
- Nov. 16 @ Butler - RPI 40
- Nov. 20 vs. Nicholls St - RPI 143
- Nov. 23 Baylor - RPI 70 (Destin, Fla)
- Nov. 24 Cincy/George Mason - RPI 6/RPI 198 (Destin, Fla)
- Nov. 28 vs. San Diego - RPI 140
- Dec. 1 vs. ULM - RPI 224
- Dec. 8 @ Illinois St - RPI 83
- Dec. 12 vs. SELA - RPI 150 (Jackson, Miss)
- Dec. 16 vs. UT Chattanooga - RPI 304
- Dec. 21 vs. MTSU - RPI 30 (Nashville, Tenn.)
- Dec. 29 vs. FGCU - RPI 172
- Jan. 26 vs. Iowa State - RPI 145