Wow. This Ole Miss basketball team doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit — that much can be surely said.
Fans of the Rebels have undoubtedly had a few occasions to write them off completely this season, but this squad just keeps playing, keeps finding wins when you least expect it. I fully expect the season finale at home against Vanderbilt to be far more pressure packed than records indicate — because that’s been the story of this team.
Ole Miss beat Kentucky for the 14th time in school history, bringing its historic record against the Wildcats to 14-95. While this is not the Kentucky we typically expect, it is still a solid win at home. UK sat at No. 65 in the NET rankings prior to tip off, and with the win, Ole Miss moved up two spots from No. 60 to No. 58.
And Luis Rodriguez ripped someone’s spine out again.
So what does that 58th ranking mean for the Rebels? First off, there’s still work to be done.
The latest ESPN projections put Xavier as the last team in the tournament, and the Musketeers are currently sitting at No. 53 in the NET. Between the X-Men and Ole Miss? Duke, Syracuse, Memphis and SMU, all who are squarely on the bubble with the Rebels, and most of which have far more rich basketball histories than our program in Oxford.
Now, I want to say this is purely my opinion, but if the Selection Committee is coming down to the last few teams in and it’s Ole Miss and the teams we just mentioned, I have no assurance they will place the Rebels into the tournament. Duke, Syracuse et al. mean ratings, tradition, and all the other reasons that really shouldn’t matter.
The unfortunate part of all of this is that Ole Miss could be in the tournament right now if not for a few losses. Last weekend’s disastrous road loss against Vanderbilt, the home loss to Georgia, losing a lead late against Florida in Gainesville — turn one or two of those games to the win column, and we’re having a different conversation.
But this is the hand the Rebels have to play now — a win against Vanderbilt (currently No. 118 in NET) in Oxford does little to help. Ole Miss needs wins in the SEC Basketball Tournament to move the needle in the NET rankings and in the eyes of the Selection Committee.
Last night’s broadcast talked about the chance of the Rebels as high as a four seed in the tournament, which would mean a DOUBLE BYE and not playing until Friday, March 12th. It would also mean a potential collision course with SEC regular season champion Alabama in the SEC semi-final should the Rebels win. Perilous road to be sure if that plays out.
Should the Rebels land in fifth place in the SEC, the road to March Madness still goes through Alabama in the bracket, but Ole Miss would play the winner of the 12/13-seed game on Thursday and move on to play the No. 4 seed Friday.
Then there’s the likelihood Ole Miss stays where it is as the No. 6 seed. First there’s a game against whoever finishes 11th in the SEC on Thursday, then moving on to most likely play Florida or LSU in the quarterfinals. From there, it would be Arkansas in the semi-finals if chalk holds, and still a lot of potential for quality wins to stack up for the Rebels.
At this point, it is nearly impossible to predict which Rebel team will show up on any given night, but if coach Kermit Davis has one more three or four game win streak he can muster from this group, now is the time and place for it to happen.