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We are at the halfway point of the SEC basketball season. Here’s why it all matters to Ole Miss

Let’s take a drive.

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Mississippi Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Why do we write (or read) about sports? What is it about the athletic competition of complete strangers that puts us on the edge of our seats and makes us sacrifice time, mental solitude and, most importantly, dollars to feel like a part of the action involving our school or team?

And, in the end, do sports really matter?

I think this past calendar year, give or take a few weeks, has been pretty hard on us all. The year 2020 was, from the bird’s eye view of many, one of the worst years of human existence or, at the very least, our lives to this point. Life still isn’t fully back to normal, although it’s inching closer and closer by the day.

Picture this. If you’ve ever been to the Mississippi Delta, you know that it’s a flat stretch of land that comes to a startling halt at the Mississippi River, the waterway that cuts our nation in two. Imagine you’re driving down Mississippi Highway 1, roughly following the same path as Old Man River, and somewhere between the microscopic communities of Gunnison and Benoit, you need something to drink. You come to Rosedale, find a gas station, quench your thirst, and climb back into the vehicle only to find that when you crank it, your check engine light comes on. Your car is making noises that make you cringe, but you have to get to Greenville, so you trudge on, albeit slowly.

Inching across the seemingly-two-dimensional landscape, you try to put your automobile issues out of your mind. “I’ll get it checked when I get to Greenville.” So you cut on the radio (or connect your phone via bluetooth) and begin listening to music. You find yourself singing along to the lyrics of [your-song-title-here], and eventually you see lights in the distance that signify the welcome sight of Greenville, your destination.

Now, as is the case in the Delta at night, you could be very close to Greenville. You could also be a few miles away. For a boy raised in the hills of North-Central Mississippi, I never got good at measuring distance in the flat Delta with my eyes, especially after nightfall. Still, you know you’re closer than you were when you started, and you start to feel hopeful that you’ll make it after all, car problems included.

That metaphorical trip is kind of like what we’ve experienced in the last year: a lot of worry and a lot of uncertainty with brief glimpses at what life used to be like before this collective world nightmare began in the form of COVID-19. Sure, maybe we’ve learned to deal with it (or ignore it), but the truth is that we’re not quite to our destination yet. Restaurants and bars and department stores are still staunchly enforcing COVID-19 guidelines (in some areas, anyway) as we try to mitigate the virus’ spread. You may feel like yourself at home, but when you walk back out into the world, reality hits again. This isn’t over.

I got into sports writing because I’ve always loved sports, plain and simple. I wanted a career that felt like leisure at the same time. I talk about sports constantly with friends and family, so why not write about them, too?

But as I’ve earned my degree in journalism (and am heading towards a second degree in that field) and worked for multiple publications, I’ve come to a conclusion: sports matter. They’re a reprieve, an escape, if you will, from the real world. We may get up in arms when our team loses, but ultimately, we come back because we are seeking entertainment, something that will give us a break from the trudging on of everyday life.

Even more so than under normal circumstances, sports have mattered this past year once they finally came back. It can be depressing to be in quarantine or be separated from at-risk family members and friends, and even though sports can’t fill those voids, they give us a break, much like the songs on our allegorical journey through the Delta.

Since COVID-19 hit, I’ve found new purpose in my writing and don’t take for granted that which can so easily be taken away in the blink of an eye. That’s why sports matter, and that’s why we talk about them.

Now that we’ve reached the somewhat-halfway point of SEC basketball play, I was tasked to write a story on where the league stood and what all Ole Miss had to face the rest of the way, but I decided to express my relief that we’re even still playing basketball in this crazy world, and regardless of where the Rebels’ fortunes may fall at season’s end, we should be thankful we made it this far.

The car may be sputtering, but there are lights in the distance. We’re almost to Greenville.

With that being said, here’s a look at how the SEC stands at this point of the season as well as Ole Miss’ remaining schedule. It won’t be easy sledding for the Rebels if they hope to get back into the NCAA Tournament conversation, but last week’s 2-0 mark gives hope, however slim, that it can be done. The theoretical road to the postseason begins this week with a road trip to Fayetteville followed by a road trip to Athens. Let’s see where the cards fall.

Ole Miss (8-6 overall, 3-4 SEC)

Remaining schedule

  • Jan. 27 — at Arkansas
  • Jan. 30 — at Georgia
  • Feb. 2 — vs. Tennessee
  • Feb. 6 — at Auburn
  • Feb. 10 — vs. Missouri
  • Feb. 13 — at South Carolina
  • Feb. 20 — vs. Mississippi State
  • Feb. 23 — at Missouri
  • Feb. 27 — at Vanderbilt
  • Mar. 2 — vs. Kentucky

* NOTE: A home game against South Carolina originally scheduled for Jan. 9 was postponed to a later date.

SEC basketball standings as of Jan. 26

  1. Alabama
  2. Missouri
  3. LSU
  4. Florida
  5. Tennessee
  6. Kentucky
  7. Arkansas
  8. Mississippi State
  9. Ole Miss
  10. Auburn
  11. Georgia
  12. Texas A&M
  13. South Carolina
  14. Vanderbilt