And So They Wait

There's a chance. That's what they're saying. Ole Miss might get into the NCAA Tournament next week, that is.

The Rebels appear to be a long shot. But some experts are saying hold on, because there aren't going to be enough teams to fill out the field without Ole Miss. One projection Sunday had Ole Miss at Fullerton as a third seed.

That would be nice for R.J. Hively, native Californian and former member of the Cal State Fullerton baseball program. He was there as a freshman. But, like all of this, it's only one prediction.

Georgia has to win three games in Hoover and Auburn has to win one game in Hoover or those two teams won't make the NCAA Tournament field. Teams can't play on without a winning record. Not a .500 record. It must be above .500.

The Rebels are 30-25, so not playing this week isn't a problem for Ole Miss in that regard. The RPI is currently 41.

The Rebels have become a fixture at the SEC Tournament each May as the program had risen to elite status. The last time Ole Miss didn't make Hoover? That was 2002, and it was even more gut-wrenching for those who follow the program than this year.

That year, Mike Bianco's second as head coach of the Rebels, Ole Miss was ranked as high as No. 6 nationally by at least one poll in April and collapsed in May, losing its last six SEC games. The final three, a sweep at Mississippi State, kept the Rebels out of Hoover.

All Ole Miss had to do that weekend to get into the SEC tourney was win one game. Mississippi State had to win all three.

But that year Ole Miss knew it wasn't going to the NCAA Tournament since it didn't make Hoover. It was told that prior to the SEC Tournament by those who said they knew.

Never before had a team been selected for the NCAA Tournament that didn't make the SEC Tournament the week before. That continued as the Rebels were passed over.

And their resume' was NCAA tourney worthy in 2002. Their final overall record was an impressive 37-19, but in the SEC they went from 14-10 to 14-16 the last two weekends.

Matt Smith
Bruce Newman
So they didn't get in. The next year Florida didn't make the SEC Tournament but was invited to the NCAA field. The year after that, same thing for Mississippi State. Go figure.

But until this week the Rebels had managed to play their way into Hoover ever since the collapse of May, 2002. This year, however, there has been no collapse. The Rebels were never ranked and were thought by many "experts" to be in exactly the position they find themselves today.

Things could have been different. Had they had less injuries, like the ones that affected Matt Snyder, Jake Morgan, and Matt Smith, they'd likely be playing this week. We're only talking about getting another couple of wins prior to the Arkansas series to make things easier on themselves.

But it wasn't all about injuries. There were too many four-error games, so unlike Bianco teams in the past, and too many games that were lost by other mistakes, often mental.

It actually looked like the team was playing its best baseball lately. The 2-1 win Thursday night at Arkansas set things up for the Rebels to push their way into Hoover. Then came the rains and no game Friday.

I don't think it was as much playing two seven-inning contests on Saturday that affected the team as it was not being able to continue the momentum from Thursday night by playing Friday night. The momentum was actually building from a non-conference win Tuesday against Southeast Missouri State and a series finale win against Mississippi State three nights before that.

Even with having to sit out Friday and play two short games Saturday, they had their chances. But some of those same old problems raised their ugly heads late in both games, and Ole Miss was sent home packing.

Now begs the question. Will they unpack again to play late next week?

LSU, at 36-20 overall and 13-17 in SEC games, is playing the waiting game this week like the Rebels. The Tigers, with a current RPI of 20, won 12 of their final 15 games of the season, including nine of their last 12 SEC games but missed out on Hoover. They seem to be in a better situation to play again than Ole Miss, and they won two of three games against the Rebels in Baton Rouge earlier this season.

In 2002, the Rebels practiced through the week of the SEC Tournament as if they'd play again, even though precedent said absolutely not.

Then came Monday, and their fate was sealed. That's the only season a Bianco coached Ole Miss team has failed to make the NCAA postseason.

This week they'll get in some practice time again. The difference? Some who think they know are actually saying the Rebels' name could pop up on the TV screen on Memorial Day, and they'll be headed somewhere for more baseball games.

In a week we'll know for sure.

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