With the turn of a new year comes college basketball’s turn to league play, and Ole Miss sits amidst uncertainty as heads into a league play. Things certainly got off to a good start over the weekend with a big 81-71 win over Vanderbilt, but the general weirdness of the SEC so far makes it tough to project. Kentucky is in a down place somewhat, Tennessee is ascendant, Florida is, um, okay(?), and Mississippi State is waiting to kill off some big names.
Outside those shops, maybe South Carolina and Texas A&M and Vanderbilt and Arkansas and Auburn and Alabama can mess this whole stewpot up. Certainly seven or 10 clubs — including Ole Miss and, cough, Georgia — can screw around with the SEC’s finishing order and tournament seeding. This year in fact feels like one of the most wide open seasons in recent conference memory, certainly since 2013 (holla, Hendo!).
The HoopSharks are an unexpected 11-2 on the season, with this-is-fine losses to tournament mainstays Cincinnati and Butler. The Rebs also have strong non-con wins over Baylor and Illinois State, both of whom could screw around for a top-68 spot come March. In short, the tournament resume is certainly not all that bad right now.
So how do things look heading into SEC play?
Ole Miss opened the league slate with a bang against Vanderbilt on Saturday night, ripping off a strenuous 81-71 victory in Nashville. The Rebs host No. 12 Auburn on Wednesday then play at No. 17 CLANGA before a home stand against unbanked LSU and Arkansas next week. That’s a rough stretch, but there’s room for some signature wins against teams that will maybe, probably make the tournament. Wins at Auburn and Mississippi State would push Ole Miss significantly up in the March Madness discussion, such as it is, notwithstanding losses at home to LSU and Arkansas.
None other than Tennessee represents the class of the conference this year. Kentucky is still stocked with superstar talent from top to bottom, but the Wildcats have failed to put together top-10 platoons thus far. UK’s greatest liability is on the defensive side of the ball, allowing 94 points per 100 possessions, according to KenPom.
Tennessee, for its part, currently sits at No. 7 in Pomeroy’s overall ranking, sitting at fifth in his overall offensive efficiency. It’s somewhat remarkable to witness Rick Barnes reinvent himself in the SEC after so many years of near-misses at Texas. Indeed, this year’s SEC regular season and tournament title races are the Vols’ to lose, and that feels very weird to type.
Thankfully, Ole Miss only gets Tennessee once this year, at home and in late February, when the Rebs should be playing their best basketball. As of this writing, the Volunteers are ranked No. 3 in the country. Don’t expect that to change too much as they charge through the conference slate.
Eyeballing this league schedule for the Rebs, there are feasibly, optimistically 10 or 11 wins in this 17-game stretch. At Auburn is never fun, hosting Kentucky ain’t as well, and there are probably two or three other weird fails possibly lurking in Starkville, Fayetteville, or Columbia. Kermit’s got a good club who believe in his process, but there’s a lot of parity in the SEC right now.
Ole Miss win projections
|Date||Opponent||Projected win %|
|Date||Opponent||Projected win %|
|Jan 9||No. 12 Auburn||35.1%|
|Jan 12||at No. 17 Mississippi State||22.4%|
|Jan 22||at Alabama||40.7%|
|Jan 26||Iowa State||43.6%|
|Jan 30||at Florida||23.9%|
|Feb 2||No. 17 Mississippi State||50.1%|
|Feb 6||Texas A&M||76.5%|
|Feb 9||at Georgia||51.7%|
|Feb 13||at No. 12 Auburn||12.7%|
|Feb 19||at South Carolina||54.7%|
|Feb 27||No. 3 Tennessee||32.7%|
|Mar 2||at Arkansas||39.6%|
|Mar 5||No. 13 Kentucky||43.1%|
|Mar 9||at Missouri||48.2%|
That sounds … not fun. Is there good news here?
Yes! Ole Miss blasted through a solid non-conference run with losses to tournament perennials. The Rebs have one more non-con bout on the schedule, a Jan. 26 date with Iowa State in Oxford, who ranks No. 14 in KenPom’s ranking at the moment. What a fun upset that could be.
An NIT berth would satisfying in Kermit’s Year 1. An NCAA tournament bid would be thrilling. A conference-play opening win on the road at Vandy is a great way to announce a postseason march. It’s entirely possible.