Two weeks ago, Ole Miss basketball and its chances for a bid in the NCAA Tournament were on life support after falling to 8-8 on the year after a loss to an inconsistent Georgia team.
But, my oh my, how the tables have turned for head coach Kermit Davis and the Rebels in the last four games. Four wins, including two quadrant one wins against Missouri and Tennessee, and a resurgence led by senior guard Devontae Shuler from a 3-6 SEC record to a now 7-6 SEC record — this team is making strong case for inclusion in March Madness.
There are five games left in the season, however, and any one of them could make or break this team’s season. The Rebels sit at No. 55 in the Feb. 14 NET rankings, and ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has put this team squarely on the bubble as a “next four out” squad (meaning there are 4-7 teams ahead of Ole Miss currently).
Now, let’s look at where the remaining opponents rank, and how Ole Miss can work its way into the tournament.
- LSU — 27
- Mississippi St. — 93
- at Missouri — 36
- at Vanderbilt — 125
- Kentucky — 76
Ole Miss added a game against LSU in Oxford on Sunday to fill a canceled game against South Carolina from earlier in the season. First off, that’s a much tougher and quality opponent to face on the home court comparatively. It’s a massive opportunity to get a quadrant one win less than a month from Selection Sunday. LSU dominated Ole Miss by double digits earlier in the season, but the Rebels are playing more complete games now so its anybody’s guess how this will play out.
Then a rivalry game against a Mississippi State team in Oxford who will be looking to avenge an embarrassing loss from earlier in the season. The Bulldogs aren’t playing especially well, however, and just dropped a 21-point game to lowly Vanderbilt at home. This is the last time Shuler will play State in Oxford, so the hope is it will be memorable and Oxford native Jarkel Joiner will be up for the in-state hoops contest.
A road trip to Mizzou is most likely the toughest of this final stretch, though the Tigers have not been playing great of late. I don’t see the Rebels winning again against Cuonzo Martin’s team in Columbia, but it’s college basketball anything is possible. If the Rebels are riding a six-game win streak at that time, they would easily be one of the hottest teams in the country and possibly make Missouri play tight.
The final two games against Vanderbilt and Kentucky are games Ole Miss simply cannot afford to lose. The Commodores and Wildcats will not be easy outs either, so these will be the games when pressure could mount for this team. If the Rebels have pulled off a 2-2 record in the previous four games leading up to these finales, the hyper-focus on these games will be very intense.
Additionally, the Rebels have an opportunity to play its way into the top five teams in the SEC, which will award them a bye at the SEC Tournament in Nashville. There’s a lot left to play for, and it seems this team has played its best when its back is against a wall.