Hunter Mentality

For Ole Miss basketball, these are uncharted waters.

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The Rebels are off to a blistering start in Southeastern Conference play. At 15-2 overall and 4-0 in league games, they've quickly become a national storyline, ranked for the first time since 2010.

Ole Miss is ranked in the top-25 of both the Associated Press (No. 23) and USA Today/Coaches' (No. 24) polls. The Rebels take on Tennessee (9-7, 1-3 SEC) Thursday night at 6 p.m. on ESPN2, in pursuit of just their second 5-0 SEC start in school history.

"For me, I'm happy. But then again, I'm mad, because I still feel disrespected," sophomore forward Aaron Jones said. "Since we're winning, now national people want to look at us. They should have been looking at us a long time ago. We feel disrespected. We feel like we're still not ranked."

Ole Miss picked up a pair of wins against Vanderbilt and Arkansas last week. A win over Tennessee, which would mean a season sweep of the Volunteers, would give the Rebels their best start since beginning the 1936-37 season 16-2.

Head coach Andy Kennedy isn't thinking much, if at all, about the record-setting start to the conference schedule.

In his seventh season at Ole Miss, Kennedy is sticking with the narrative of his team staying in the moment, which makes sense considering the SEC schedule now consists of an 18-game grind.

Andy Kennedy
Associated Press

"As a coach, I'm more interested in us getting better and getting to the next game," he said. "For the most part, this group has been pretty good about trying to stay in the moment.

"It's easier said than done. Seems like everybody wants to talk about what has happened in the past, what's going to happen in the future, as opposed to staying right here in this moment. That's what I'm trying to get our guys to focus on."

Tennessee is up next. Ole Miss won in Knoxville, Tenn., to open SEC play, and the Rebels have won three of the last four at home against the Volunteers.

"We'll see Thursday, I suppose," Kennedy said, when asked pf how the team has responded to being ranked.

"I think it's good anytime that you can have your university get acknowledged. Our guys have worked hard to put themselves in that position."

Ole Miss hasn't reached the NCAA tournament in a decade. In previous seasons under Kennedy, Ole Miss has come close, only to be left out come Selection Sunday.

The Rebels are well positioned to earn a bid. ESPN's Joe Lunardi had Ole Miss as a No. 8 seed, playing North Carolina in Texas, in his latest bracketology, released on Tuesday.

"We're not thinking about the big picture," Jones said. "We're thinking about the next game. We feel like our next game is very important. That's how we look at it."

"We talk about (how) we always want to maintain the hunter mentality," Kennedy said. "We haven't done anything, other than we've won a couple of basketball games. I like the direction this team is moving, but again, I've been doing this long enough to know you've got to stay in the right mindset day by day if you want it to continue."

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