Rushed Reactions: OIe Miss 66, Florida 63Posted by David Changas on March 17th, 2013
David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after this afternoon’s SEC Tournament championship game between Ole Miss and Florida in Nashville.
Three Key Takeaways.
- No More Bubble Worries. After being involved in the bubble discussion for the past several weeks, and nearly seeing its dreams die when it trailed Missouri by double-figures midway through the second half on Friday night, Ole Miss took the issue out of the Selection Committee’s hands and earned its bid to the Big Dance the old-fashioned way. Now, the Rebels can hope to move up the seed line and draw a better spot than it could have anticipated prior to the weekend. The Rebels got their best two wins of the season this weekend, and even if they had already done enough prior to Sunday’s championship game to earn a bid, they now don’t have to worry about heading to Dayton for a First Four game.
- The Monkey off his Back. Andy Kennedy has done a nice job at Ole Miss, which no one would argue is an easy place to win. He has won 20 games in six of his seven seasons in Oxford. But before today, Kennedy had not been able to get the Rebels into the NCAA Tournament. He was convinced that his team was in the Tournament even before the weekend, and certainly after it beat Missouri. Now, he can breathe a little easier and enjoy the Selection Show a little more. Kennedy is also now working under athletic director Ross Bjork, who arrived on campus a year ago. With any change in AD comes questions about whether a coach is the right fit. With this win, Kennedy went a long way to securing his future in Oxford, as the Rebels’ appearance validates the work he has done at the school.
- Florida Struggles in the Clutch. The numbers don’t lie. Florida is now 0-6 in games decided by single-digits. It’s a theme that started in the Arizona game in December, when the Gators dominated for 36 minutes but weren’t able to close out the final two minutes of each half. The Gators led this one by 12 at the break and appeared to be in control, but a 26-8 Ole Miss run in the first nine minutes of the second half put the Gators in the position of having to win a close game. Florida was dominant in most of its SEC wins, but obviously didn’t perform the way a team with its talent and experience should have in close ones. It’s a perplexing issue, but one of the Gators’ biggest problems is shot selection. They took 31 threes on Sunday, and many came outside the flow of the offense. “I don’t think our guards did a great job in the second half passing and keeping the ball moving,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said after the game. It’s a problem that is hard to correct at this time of year, and could very well doom the Gators in the NCAA Tournament much earlier than a team with as many weapons as they have should expect.
Star of the Game. Marshall Henderson. Who else? The Tournament MVP scored 71 points in the three games in Nashville, and was the reason Rebels were able to win the title. All antics from the junior guard aside, Henderson is a difference-maker for Kennedy’s squad, and is a key reason the Rebels are going to the NCAA Tournament and not making a return trip to the NIT.
Sights and Sounds. Watching the circus act that is Marshall Henderson was worth the price of admission. On Friday night, he entertained us by running through the Missouri bench during a timeout and then stood on the scorer’s table after the win. After a relatively tame Saturday performance against Vanderbilt, he was back at it today, riling up the Florida crowd by doing the Gator chomp right in front of them after nailing a big three midway through the second half. Say what you will about him, but Henderson put a little spice into a tournament that otherwise would have been pretty nondescript.
Quotable. “I don’t think we played outstanding basketball today, or yesterday, or Friday, but we played determined basketball.” – Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy
Wildcard. All the talk with Ole Miss centers around Henderson, and for good reason. But the performances of senior post players Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway should not be overlooked. Both made the all-tournament team, and rightly so. Most teams in the SEC cannot match Florida’s duo of Erik Murphy and Patric Young, but Ole Miss’s pair did just that, and more. In fact, they dominated, combining for 34 points and 15 rebounds, while holding Murphy and Young to a combined 12 points and 11 rebounds. Along with Henderson’s prolific scoring, their play is a huge reason the Rebels have more meaningful basketball in front of them.
What’s Next. For both teams, the NCAA Tournament. Florida likely will receive a #3- or #4-seed, while Ole Miss likely won’t move much higher than the #10 or #11 line. The Rebels’ body of work simply doesn’t merit anything higher, as they earned their first two top 50 wins this weekend.