Tourney Time

For Ole Miss, the scenario is simple. Win, and win often.

Follow SpiritBen on Twitter

Andy Kennedy knows it. Kennedy joined the SEC teleconference Monday morning to preview Auburn, the Rebels' first-round opponent as the No. 7 seed Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in the SEC tournament in New Orleans, La.

Ole Miss is 18-12 overall and finished 8-8 in league games. Its RPI is 57 following a crucial win over Alabama Saturday, which put Ole Miss back in the discussion for the NCAA tournament, should it do work in the Big Easy.

"I'd love to have that problem," Kennedy said of a potential second or even third game. "For us, we're concerned about Thursday night."

For most, if not all, teams but Ole Miss especially, it's a one-game tournament. Ole Miss needs as many wins as it can get, and the Rebels get a familiar opponent in the first round. Ole Miss split the regular-season series with Auburn, with both teams winning on their home floor.

"I don't think they've made any vast changes," Kennedy said of Auburn. "You get to this stage of the season and you are what you are.

"They have a combination of inside-outside firepower. They do a good job of defending. Kenny Gabriel is having an all-league caliber year. Frankie Sullivan as a combo guard is as explosive a scorer as there is in this league. They have size and physicality at the rim. We're going to have to do a good job defending inside and hold our own on the glass."

Ole Miss is riding a three-game winning streak. Prior to the streak, the Rebels had lost three straight. Each of those losses was by double-digit points, including two road losses at Kentucky and at Tennessee by 15 points and 13 points, respectively.

Andy Kennedy
Associated Press

Now they have life entering the conference tournament. Should Ole Miss beat Auburn (15-15, 5-11 SEC) Thursday, it would advance to take on No. 2 seed Tennessee Friday. Ole Miss was recently named among the "Last Four Out" by CBS bracketologist Jerry Palm.

"Interesting matchup given the two contests we had with them, having won the first game in double OT, then a hard-fought game in Oxford where we led by 10 or more for the majority of the game and couldn't hold on at the end," Auburn head coach Tony Barbee said.

"It will be an interesting contrast. You are what you are as a team, and even though you have this small window, no coach is going to reinvent what they're trying to do. It will be a contrast in styles. Ole Miss is a big, physical team.

Ole Miss senior forward Terrance Henry has upped his game in recent weeks, and not coincidentally the Rebels are playing arguably their best basketball of the season.

Henry had just 10 points in the final regular season home game of his career against Alabama, but managed 21 points against LSU and 19 at Arkansas, both wins. Henry leads Ole Miss in scoring.

"Their size presents a challenge for us, their size, athleticism and versatility, and the way they use that," Barbee said. "They're one of the best rebounding teams in the Southeastern Conference, and a big way they manufacture points is off the backboard."

Kendrick's status pending:

Kennedy said Monday the status of freshman guard Jelan Kendrick is pending. Kennedy hasn't had a chance to meet with Kendrick face-to-face. The two are expected to sit down later this afternoon.

Kendrick didn't play against Alabama. He missed pregame warm-ups and was late arriving to the Ole Miss bench. Kendrick took to the bench, dressed to play, midway through the first half Saturday.

"I've not had the opportunity to meet with Jelan, so that's still pending," Kennedy said. "I'll meet with him this afternoon. At this point because I've still not had the opportunity to visit with him face-to-face, I'll do that prior to taking the next step."

Jelan Kendrick

Buckner, Holloway battling injury:

Ole Miss forwards Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway are still battling injury as they head to New Orleans for the all-important conference tournament.

Buckner has what Kennedy recently labeled a chronic knee issue. Holloway injured his ankle in a non-conference loss to Middle Tennessee State in December.

With his nine rebounds Saturday, Holloway moved into the top-10 all-time at Ole Miss with 704 career rebounds. Buckner is the Ole Miss career blocks leader.

"Their status is the same. With both of them, the only thing that's going to alleviate any issue is when the season is over," Kennedy said. "We understand that, they understand that. We try to be judicious in getting them ready to play as we close down the season.

"We're as healthy now as we have been all year. We've had some issues related to personnel which have cut down on our numbers. The squad size with 13, when you lose a couple of people with suspension or injury it really does cut down on your numbers, and we've had to deal with that as have other teams."

OM Spirit Top Stories