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Ole Miss basketball must stack up wins in conference play as the SEC flounders this season

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There’s some landmines to avoid this season to make it to March Madness.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Memphis Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Southeastern Conference basketball does not have a heralded history of several teams competing for the national championship year in and year out.

We’ve got Kentucky, which is very helpful in giving the conference swag, and we’ve got teams that come in and out of national relevancy like Florida, Auburn, Tennessee and Arkansas at times. There’s plenty of teams who have had three or four nice runs making up the rest of the conference, but I don’t think nationally they are roundly considered threats year in and year out.

There have been seasons in recent years where the conference was made up of several teams who had no chance of sniffing postseason play when SEC play began. This is potentially one of those seasons after SEC basketball fever hit early and often in non-conference play.

So let’s take a look at the NET rankings going into the start of SEC play this weekend. There are still some non-conference games speckled in the schedule including Ole Miss’ game against No. 12 NET ranked Wichita St. Saturday, but this is the starting point for now.

NET Rankings and the SEC

  • Auburn - 8th
  • Arkansas - 24th
  • LSU - 36th
  • Kentucky - 40th
  • Ole Miss - 50th
  • Missouri - 52nd
  • Florida - 55th
  • Alabama - 60th
  • Georgia - 66th
  • Tennessee - 67th
  • Mississippi St. - 80th
  • Vanderbilt - 124th
  • South Carolina - 129th
  • Texas A&M - 191st

So how did we get here? I know many of you don’t pay attention to basketball until right about now, so let’s get a refresher on the state of the conference. The NET rankings are still somewhat new, so as a reminder, the top 75 teams are typically weighed more heavily in terms of wins and losses when Ole Miss plays them on the road. Teams outside of the top 100 heavily diminish your chances for an NCAA tournament bid if you drop the contest, but wins over them also don’t boost your chances either.

First, it was Kentucky’s loss to Evansville leaving doubts about the Wildcats legitimacy as a title contender and rocking its ranking. They have since bounced back with a massive win over Louisville, but Kentucky with three losses already has not met its top 5 pedigree as of yet.

LSU’s ranking was recently boosted by taking down previously undefeated Liberty, but the Bayou Bengals still have losses to East Tennessee St. and Virginia Commonwealth who are both in the top-75 currently. The problem is these teams will most likely drop several spots once its conference play begins unless they don’t lose.

Auburn and Arkansas have been the most consistent to date racking up only one loss between them. The Tigers most impressive win came against top-30 NC State while the Razorbacks just took down top 50 Indiana on the road.

Ole Miss has an impressive win over NET No. 15 Penn St. on a neutral court, and the Rebels losses are against No. 4 Butler, No. 12 Memphis and No. 33 Oklahoma St. This puts Ole Miss in a decent situation entering league play though the Rebels cannot afford losses to certain SEC squads this year.

Most notably, the Rebels play Texas A&M in College Station in its first SEC contest and represent the lowest ranked SEC team so far this year. At one point, the Aggies dropped four straight games to Harvard, Temple, Fairfield, and Texas. It’s a game that the numbers say can demolish the work Ole Miss has already put in and damage its NCAA tournament hopes.

South Carolina and Vanderbilt also offer pretty terrible resumes for the conference with the Gamecocks losing to No. 203 Boston University and No. 300 Stetson. Vandy recorded losses to No. 121 Tulsa and No. 139 Loyola while also not finding a marquee win as of yet.

Missouri’s ugly loss is to No. 296 Charleston Southern (4-6), but the Tigers are otherwise taking care of itself fairly well to get back close to the top 50. Meanwhile, Florida has a nice positive in a win against No. 48 Xavier, but it dropped a game to No. 79 UConn in non-conference play.

Tennessee had a great opportunity for a top-50 win at home against Wisconsin only to lose by 20. All of the Vol losses are against top 75 opponents, however, mitigating its ranking dropping too far.

And finally Mississippi St. has taken some lumps losing at home to No. 117 New Mexico St. and No. 71 Louisiana Tech, but the Bulldogs will most likely see a slow rise with the return of Nick Weatherspoon at point guard after a 10-game suspension.

So we say all this to say, Ole Miss has the fifth highest NET ranking of all SEC teams right now with no bad losses. The Rebels need to win 11 or 12 conference games to make its case for the NCAA tournament given a weaker conference this year most likely, because half of the conference is outside the top 60 — making up eight of the 18 conference games the Rebels play.

Now, it’s important to remember the NET rankings are incredibly fluid and dependent on dozens of outcomes of games from here on out. Things can change rapidly, and Ole Miss’ three losses that look great now could have some shine taken off if Butler, Memphis and Oklahoma St. don’t rise to the challenge of its respective conferences.

It’s all apart of the madness ahead of us as fans. Wake up, it’s now definitely basketball season for us all.