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Controlling Our March Madness Destiny

Photograph by Robert Jordan, UM Brand Photography Services
Photograph by Robert Jordan, UM Brand Photography Services

Rebels get set to make a run for the NCAA Tournament.

Seph currently serves as the student loan coordinator for the Office of Financial Aid at Ole Miss, where he has worked for the past eight years.


Follow @SephTheRebel for Ole Miss news from an Ole Miss guy …

Despite producing five 20-plus win seasons and NIT appearances in his first six seasons at the helm in Oxford, head coach Andy Kennedy has not yet earned the Rebels a bid to the Big Dance.

Given a seventh season, and opportunity, by Ole Miss Athletics Director Ross Bjork in 2012-2013, Kennedy now has his best shot ever to finally quiet his critics.

With a defining win against a then #10 ranked Missouri Tiger team last week, Kennedy’s Rebels now control their own March Madness destiny.

Led by the National Junior College Player of the Year in 2011-2012 and currently the SEC’s leading scorer at 18.6 points per game, gritty point guard Marshall Henderson, the Rebels are on the fast track to success.

Currently at 13-2 overall and 2-0 in league play (RPI: 48, SOS: 47), sixteen conference games now stand between the upstart Rebels and a ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

While Ole Miss (13-2, 2-0), Florida (12-2, 2-0), and new additions Texas A&M (12-3, 2-0) and Missouri (12-3, 1-1) all sport records well above .500 percent, usually successful programs like Kentucky (10-5, 1-1), Mississippi State (7-7, 2-0), and Vanderbilt (6-8, 0-2) are off to sluggish starts.

However, the conference season is still young, with 16 games remaining for each of the fourteen programs between now and the start of the SEC Tournament in Nashville beginning March 13.

The way I see it, there are two things that need to happen to truly secure Kennedy and the Rebels with their first NCAA bid since former Coach Rod Barnes led them to the promised land in 2002.

First, keep winning, specifically win the ones you’re supposed to, and gain another couple of quality-level wins against teams with decent RPI’s.

That would mean winning against either Kentucky (at home, Jan 29th), Florida (on the road, Feb 2nd), or Texas A&M (on the road, Feb 13th or at home, Feb 27th). It’s quite possible to win two of these four games.

As I see it, The Rebels need to win at least 11 of their final 16 conference games to absolutely “punch” their ticket to the big dance.

By winning 11 of their final 16 games in the expanded conference slate, the Rebels would finish the regular season with a record of 24 – 7 (13-5 in conference play) even before the SEC Tournament. That would set them up as probably a #7 or #8 seed.

Second, Kennedy needs some of his SEC coaching counterparts to begin picking up the slack for fellow teams fighting for postseason bids. Teams like Ole Miss need to see opponent RPI’s rise as the season goes on to bolster their tournament resumes.

There’s no doubt about it, the SEC is having the type of “down year” in men’s basketball it hasn’t seen it a while. That being said, the importance of fellow conference members’ records as the season progresses simply can’t be stressed enough.

It will only help the Rebels’ chances of earning an NCAA bid, if a few other league members can get on the winning track and find themselves in position for at least an NIT-bid.

So, what will happen for the Rebels as the season shakes out between now and the end of the regular season March 9th on the road against rival, LSU?

The fact is the 2012-2013 Rebel squad has more talent than any has had since the 2001 Rebels marched their way to the Sweet Sixteen before falling to eventual NCAA Champion, Arizona.

Further, the men’s basketball teams hasn’t won an SEC Conference Tournament since 1981. It’s been a long time coming, but Kennedy has this year’s team poised to make a real run not only in the SEC Tournament, but also the NCAA Tournament.

My Prediction: Ole Miss Rebels (23-8, 12-6); SEC Tournament: 2 wins, 1 loss (Championship Game); Final Tournament Resume: 25-9

#9 seed in NCAA Tournament (advancing to the Sweet 16)



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