Ole Miss Emerging as a Dark Horse Candidate for an NCAA BidPosted by Greg Mitchell on January 21st, 2014
Kentucky and Florida will hear their names called on Selection Sunday — all hell would have to break loose for those two bids to become undone. But is there a third bid, or (gasp) more, out there for the SEC this season? It’s not hard to envision the conference cannibalizing itself to the point that that a potential third bid disappears altogether. But if it does exist, it’s dangling out there for a number of teams to pursue. Tennessee (home loss to Texas A&M), LSU (2-3 in its last five games), Missouri (losses to Georgia and Vanderbilt), and Arkansas (loss to Georgia) are all still viable candidates to do so, but each has slipped lately in its pursuit of it. Ole Miss, however, has built some momentum and is a dark horse for that third bid — assuming, of course, that a third bid turns out to exist.
The Rebels are a road loss to Mississippi State away from being off to a 4-0 SEC start. That loss in Starkville isn’t a good one, but it came down to the wire and rivalry games are always tricky. Before that, Ole Miss can explain most of its other losses. The Rebels fell in overtime to Oregon (RPI #18) and Dayton (RPI #51), and lost in the final minutes at Kansas State (RPI #32). Not as easy to explain away is a home loss to Mercer, but their RPI (#70) isn’t as bad as it might have seemed (although that will certainly drop during their Atlantic Sun schedule). There are warts, of course, starting with a lack of other quality wins. Ole Miss’ best current win is against LSU (RPI #66), and after that it falls off to Georgia Tech, Penn State or Western Kentucky, each with RPIs north of #120.
So yes, there are some major issues with the Ole Miss resume. But they still warrant consideration, because in the SEC, a large number of wins are available for the team that gets hot. The Rebels have been better in their close games lately, with each of their three conference wins going down to the wire and including a late 15-0 run against LSU. Their young frontcourt is also starting to emerge and benefiting from the attention paid to Jarvis Summers (18.1 PPG, 64.8% TS) and Marshall Henderson (19.2 PPG, 38.2% 3FG). As an example, Sebastian Saiz contributed a career-high 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting against LSU. ”It’s amazing when the ball goes in the basket, and what that does for your confidence,” head coach Andy Kennedy said. “[Saiz] made a couple [shots] early. They were really extended on Marshall, and when teams play that way, we have to take advantage of it behind the zone. We have to finish plays, and Saiz finished the plays. It’s something we’ve been sorely missing.” While Saiz didn’t follow it up with another great performance against South Carolina, Anthony Perez took his place with 22 points on 5-of-9 shooting. Neither player can likely sustain those numbers every night out, but these performances could signal development in the Rebels’ frontcourt, which would make them that much more difficult to defend.
The biggest thing holding Ole Miss back from an NCAA Tournament bid this season is the stark lack of quality wins. They still have games against Kentucky, Florida and Missouri at Tad Smith Coliseum, and road trips to Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky as well. If they can split those six games, they will become a legitimately viable bubble team. But for now, Ole Miss remains the flavor of the week as the most likely SEC team to pick up that mythical third NCAA bid.