Ole Miss’ Upcoming Home Stretch is Key to an Elusive NCAA Tournament BidPosted by Brian Joyce on January 16th, 2013
Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.
Florida’s Billy Donovan isn’t concerned with low attendance figures for his Gators’ home games. But it’s easy to not worry when fans usually line up to fill the O’Connell Center in Gainesville. Mississippi’s Andy Kennedy takes a different approach. And maybe that’s because he can’t afford to be unconcerned with a factor that has such a heavy influence on his job status for next year. Despite a 20-14 record in 2011-12, including 8-8 in SEC play, Ole Miss only lost two home games (Florida and Vanderbilt) all of last season. But this year’s 14-2 mark has the potential to be the Rebels’ most successful season in over a decade, and so far, the Rebels haven’t yet dropped a contest at the Tad Pad. Fans in Oxford need to continue to show up for Mississippi to continue its recent success.
In a 64-49 win over Missouri on Saturday, Ole Miss had a sellout crowd that helped fuel the Rebels to victory. Kennedy is aware that attendance is crucial for an encore performance. “We had a sellout, which is great,” Kennedy said. “There was a lot of energy in the building. My hope is that the people will continue to support the team. We have a group of guys that are playing real hard and trying real hard.” The players are well aware of the difference a home crowd can make on the result of a game too. The 9,173 fans in Oxford on Saturday represented the first sellout crowd for the Rebels since 2010. However, forward Murphy Holloway had to rein in expectations of the team’s freshmen who were witnessing this environment for the first time. “First SEC home game, it helped that it was the No. 10 team in the country that everybody came,” Holloway said. “The freshmen, they said, ‘Man, is it like this every SEC game?’ I said, ‘Nah.’”
After last night’s comeback victory at Vanderbilt in Memorial Gymnasium, Ole Miss returns home for three of its next four contests, including key match-ups with Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Losing any one of those games could put Mississippi’s NCAA Tournament outlook in danger. Or, a couple of victories could solidify the Rebs’ standing in the conversation. Last week, the Rebels’ projection was bleak as Mississippi was a team firmly on the bubble. But what a difference a week can make — equipped with a strong resume win under its belt, the bracketologists now have Ole Miss dancing. Jerry Palm puts the Rebels at a nine-seed. As does Joe Lunardi.
The Rebels haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2002. If Kennedy and company are going to stay in the hunt for a Tournament bid this season, home court advantage will be crucial with those key opponents soon coming to town. The Razorbacks’, Volunteers’, and Wildcats’ trips to Oxford could ultimately make or break the Rebels’ shot at hearing their names called on Selection Sunday. After a hard-fought overtime victory on Tuesday night on the road, holding court at home could put Ole Miss several steps closer to that long-elusive Tourney bid.