Ole Miss just had its most important week of the season. Coach Kermit Davis had a tea sippin’ bonanza on Auburn and Mississippi State, landing Ole Miss back-to-back top-25 wins for the first time in more than 15 years.
I think any Ole Miss fan, upon seeing a winning streak, top-25 wins, etc., can’t help but imagine an impending collapse and the realization that maybe the team was never as good as we hoped. I mean, how good is Auburn really? Was the Mississippi State win just a fluke, a mediocre game for the Bulldogs or a lucky one for the Rebels?
That swirled through my head all day Sunday, and the only conclusion I came to was that this week we’ll find out if Ole Miss is a league championship contender or just a better-than-average squad.
This week doesn’t feature ranked foes, but it’s almost as important. Let’s call it Regression to the Mean or Making Dreams a Reality Week. The Rebels have clearly proven they can play with and beat good teams on any court now, but this week will show whether they can stay the course. The Rebels play LSU on Tuesday and Arkansas on Saturday, both at home.
But let’s first glut our egos one more time with the glorious moments of last week.
3-0! 3-0! 3-0!
Yes, the surprising start to SEC play was seen by the entire country. First, a primetime win over No. 11 Auburn in Oxford with the largest crowd of the season on hand. And the students aren’t even back yet, you guys. Our home court advantage is about to potentially become one of the better in the SEC if we keep this up.
Auburn looked hesitant after more than a week without play while the Rebels simply looked sharper, more confident and ready to take the roof off the place with an upset. It was the first top-25 win since 2015, and undoubtedly, there may be children born in nine months named Kermit because of this glorious win.
Then our tea sippin’ coach went into the bowels of the Humphrey Coliseum. His degree is from Mississippi State, his father coached there and he played basketball for the Bulldogs. CBS televised the noon tip-off for a national audience with Clark Kellogg calling the game, and there were plenty of moments it looked like State would pull off a win.
But this isn’t a prodigal son coming home to kiss the feet of his forebearers, no sir.
Kerm walked in there with a strut and showed MSU what they missed out on when they hired Rick Ray over him. An 81-77 win for Ole Miss made it nine of the last 11 in the rivalry. Freshman forward Blake Hinson played out of his mind with a 26-point performance. He immediately factored into the line-up this season, and we have watched him develop over the last 15 games as the future for the Rebels.
When coaches said Hinson was a future All-SEC talent in the preseason, it was easy to scoff and call it coach speak. These guys weren’t blowing smoke.
LSU comes to Oxford on Tuesday.
8 p.m. CT on SEC Network
LSU is currently ranked No. 25 in the NCAA Evaluation Tool, or NET rankings, with a 12-3 record. A loss to Houston and an overtime defeat to ranked Florida State shouldn’t be seen as debilitating, but a 90-77 deficit to Oklahoma State on a neutral court is a head scratcher.
The Tigers have won their last five games, including an overtime win on Saturday in Arkansas at Bud Walton. Look, Bud Walton Arena is one of the toughest road venues year in and year out, so there’s no doubt in my mind LSU will be ready for the Pavilion. Skylar Mays, Tremont Waters and Naz Reid are a three-headed monster of an attack that could prove to be a huge challenge for Ole Miss. Guard play will have to be especially strong for the Rebels to pull off the home win.
This is where the potential for an upset lies: the Rebels are going to be playing their first game as a top-25 team. This is new territory for almost everyone on the team and expectations are now through the roof.
Then comes Arkansas on Saturday.
Noon CT on SEC Network
Arkansas, currently 10-5 overall, began conference play with a tight road win over Texas A&M only to drop single-digit losses to Florida and LSU at home the following week. Here they are at 1-2 in the SEC with road games at No. 3 Tennessee and No. 18 Ole Miss this week. YIKES.
The Hogs are a wounded animal in a corner right now, which makes them dangerous.
Ole Miss absolutely has to get big man Daniel Gafford into foul trouble or he could score a ton and dominate defensively. He averages 17.5 points and 2.2 blocks over 29 minutes per game while shooting 66 percent from the field.
Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe are the two guards that will most likely play all game as they both average around 30 minutes and 14 points per.
ESPN’s latest projection for this clash have the Rebels with a 78 percent chance of winning, but I have a feeling Arkansas will see this as its big chance to beat a ranked team and regain some traction for the season.
So I guess we’re a basketball school now? Tweet @redcuprebellion or comment below on your thoughts of how this week will pan out and if last week will go down as the greatest week of 2019 for Ole Miss sports.