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This week could be Ole Miss’ best opportunity to climb into NCAA Tournament contention

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Showdowns against ranked Auburn and State teams could be massive resume boosters.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Kermit Davis had to be ecstatic to see the latest NCAA Evaluation or NET rankings on Monday morning.

Ole Miss took a significant jump after downing Vandy on the road, jumping from a bubble-tastic 46th to a very respectable 35th. It’s clear that road wins in conference against decent opponents pay off in a big way with this new metric.

Ole Miss’ 10-point win over Vanderbilt on Saturday got them into the tournament conversation much more seriously than any other win so far this season. The opportunity will be even bigger this week, when the Rebels face ranked Auburn and Mississippi State teams. Splitting those would pour gasoline onto the Rebs’ NCAA Tourney fire; taking both would be a true nuclear rocket blast.

This week is potentially the biggest opportunity the Rebels will have until March. It’s a simple low-risk, high-reward situation for the next two games.

At home vs. No. 12 Auburn

Wednesday, 6 p.m. CT on ESPN2

The 11-2 Auburn Tigers come into The Pavilion at Ole Miss ranked 12th by the AP and 15th in NET. But you don’t just walk into the yet unsponsored Pavilion and waltz away with a victory. I mean, Auburn did it last year, 79-70, but whatever. The Rebels have a 2-1 record against Auburn in our beloved unnamed facility.

Don’t forget the most important thing about this game is that the first 1,000 fans get a free Ole Miss replica basketball jersey (MSRP: $29.99?). Wear it proudly, pop the chest at old Auburn fans, act like Marshall Henderson all night long and apologize to literally no one.

The Rebels are 6-0 at home so far this year, so there is nothing but positivity in terms of W-L if you like that sort of thing.

Auburn is led by senior guard Bryce Brown and junior guard Jared Harper averaging double digit points per game, and down low they have 6’11” center Austin Wiley averaging nearly 12 points and 6 rebounds per game in only 17 minutes per game.

This is the game where we find out what Ole Miss’ chances are for advancement in the postseason. The Rebels have gotten themselves into the mix, now they have a top 15 opponent at home and the opportunity is massive for an upset victory.

If the game isn’t even close, it will show the gap this year might be too great for an NCAA tournament bid given the talent on the roster.

On the road at No. 17 Mississippi State

Saturday, noon CT on CBS Sports

The Hump was Built on an Indian Burial Ground.

I mean, maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. The point remains: Ole Miss does not do well historically in Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville. There’s the 17-point loss last season, but moreover State holds a 95-26 record in Starkville against the Rebels.

We could absolutely lose this game, and it would be expected and affect very little in terms of our postseason chances.

Mississippi State holds a No. 18 NET ranking and an undefeated record at home currently. It will be televised by CBS as the lunchtime tip-off on Saturday—a huge game to make a statement.

The Bulldogs have five players averaging at least 10 points per game, led by Quinndary Weatherspoon and Lamar Peters. And don’t sleep on Aric Holman, who dropped 28 points against BYU during a 103-81 MSU win.

It’s possible State will be coming off a tough road loss—on Tuesday they head to South Carolina, which just logged a big win over Florida in Gainesville. It’s also possible that State heads into the weekend with a 10-game winning streak, a top 25 ranking and a crowd full of Keystone Light-fueled, camo-clad, little brother syndrome fans ready to scream for two hours.

If somehow, miracle of miracles, Ole Miss can pull off a 2-0 week, we can begin serious discussions about what seed they should get in March. If they lose both, it shouldn’t hurt their existing resume for postseason play.