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Ole Miss basketball and its roller coaster season needs a perfect week

Two home games and the SEC Tourney is all that remains.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Ole Miss basketball is undefeated when it plays teams ranked in the top 25. That’s a fact working in this team’s favor as the season comes to a close.

Another fact is the Rebels have stubbed its proverbial toe against the likes of Dayton, Wichita State, Georgia (twice), Mississippi State, and most recently Vanderbilt. Right now, these six losses collectively are defining the season rather than the record the squad has compiled (13-10, 8-8 SEC).

Take one or two of those losses away, and Rebel fans could be breathing a little easier about its chances to make the NCAA Tournament. Now, head coach Kermit Davis has to look at a two-game home stretch against Kentucky and Vanderbilt as must wins to get back into March Madness consideration. There’s also the SEC Basketball Tournament in Nashville where a couple wins could change the narrative quickly for Ole Miss.

Additionally, the NCAA announced it will have a slate of “replacement teams” this year for any tournament teams who are unable to play due to COVID outbreaks, and while it’s unclear how many teams it will be, it stands to reason Ole Miss could play its way at least onto this list.

The Rebels are sitting at sixth in the conference standings, one spot out of the teams who will receive a bye in the SEC Tournament. Tennessee (16-7, 9-7 SEC) sits one game ahead of Ole Miss, and the Rebels hold the tiebreaker from its 52-50 upset of the Vols earlier this year. UT plays Florida (13-6, 9-5 SEC) to close its season in Knoxville, so it is by no means an easy expected win.

A loss by the Vols gives Ole Miss a chance to vault into the top 5 of the conference if it can have a perfect week against Kentucky and Vandy.

Is it likely? Right now, I wouldn’t bet on it given how inconsistently this team has played, but the team is 8-4 at home this season and ESPN’s Basketball Power Index does give the Rebels a better than 60 percent chance of beating Kentucky and nearly 80 percent chance of closing with a win against Vandy. So there’s that!

Devontae Shuler, Jarkel Joiner and Romello White have got to come ready to play their best basketball of the season over the next 80 minutes for Ole Miss to realistically do this. The trio has shown the ability to pick up where one leaves off or slacks game to game, and team defense will have to be on point as well as the Rebels typically win every game it holds its opposition under 65 points.

The Rebels sit at No. 60 nationally in the NET rankings with the Wildcats at No. 65 and Vandy at No. 117 (yikes). A win against Kentucky is actually pretty solid right now, but the Dores are more of an expected home win by the NET metrics.

So while it seems likely the Rebels won’t be headed to the postseason, there is a slim chance in my opinion Ole Miss can make one last run for the Big Dance. The program is definitely in ‘win or go home’ territory now - let’s see what Kermit has up his sleeve.