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Knocking off Tennessee would be a huge win for Ole Miss hoops

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The Vols might not be the prize they were a couple weeks ago, but beating them Wednesday could be a program builder for Kermit Davis.

Josh McCoy/Ole Miss Athletics

Ole Miss’ home tilt against Tennessee looked like it was going to be a bigger deal a couple weeks ago. On February 16, the Volunteers were the No. 1 team in the country and steamrolling the rest of the SEC: 11-0 in league play with an average win margin of 16 points. The opportunity to slay the behemoth—thin as that opportunity seemed—held an allure for a Rebel program in the midst of a statement season.

Then, on the night of February 16, Kentucky pummeled UT from its perch atop college hoops. After barely escaping a dogfight against a bad Vandy team a few days later, Tennessee lost again to LSU—this a demoralizing overtime defeat decided by a foul in the final sixth tenths of a second.

So instead of the unbeatable, top-ranked monster, the Pavilion will host a wounded and angry No. 7 Tennessee on Wednesday night. But while the story of an Ole Miss win will now inevitably be framed as a continuing Vols collapse, this is a massive opportunity for Kermit Davis’ Rebels.

Ole Miss has recovered from its own midseason slide to win four of the last five. Three of those wins, however, came against teams ranked higher than 90th in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET). That’s caused the Rebels to slide to a NET rank of No. 38. Most bracketologists have Ole Miss penciled in as an eight or nine seed for the NCAA Tourney, but that becomes tenuous with a poor finish to the season. After hosting Tennessee, the Rebels play at Arkansas (No. 77 NET), home against Kentucky (No. 5 NET) and at Mizzou (No. 91 NET). A win over Big Blue looks out of reach the way John Calipari’s club is playing right now, meaning Tennessee is the Rebels’ last good chance to score a marquee win before the SEC Tourney.

But Wednesday night offers an opportunity larger than resume boosting within a single season. A home court win over a top-10 team is the type of thing Davis can build a program around. It’s the type of win that grabs the attention of recruits (particularly in the fertile recruiting bluffs of Memphis). It’s the type of thing that can coax a Rebel fanbase notoriously fickle about roundball to buy in the same way Davis’ players clearly have. Davis’ inaugural season in Oxford will be a roaring success regardless of what happens Wednesday night and beyond, but a win over the Vols could take things to a whole new level.

How to watch

Tip-off: Wednesday at 6 p.m.
TV: SEC Network
Online: WatchESPN

Tale of the tape

. Ole Miss Tennessee
. Ole Miss Tennessee
NET rank 38 7
Record 19-8 (9-5 SEC) 23-3 (12-2 SEC)
Strength of schedule 74 68
Record vs. Group 1 teams 4-7 5-3
Best win 22 Mississippi St. 1 Gonzaga
Adj. offensive efficiency rank 39 2
Effective FG% rank 64 15
Adj. defensive efficiency rank 55 41
Opp. effective FG% rank 130 26
Adj. tempo rank 122 166
Data via Warren Nolan and KenPom