Night and Day

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Ole Miss swept its three games in Nashville last weekend, claiming an SEC tournament championship for the first time since 1981.

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Two days later, Murphy Holloway still hadn't come down from the cloud.

Life, at least in the short term, has certainly changed for Holloway. Ole Miss entered the tournament needing wins to pad its NCAA tournament resume. The Rebels did even better, securing an automatic berth with their win over Florida on Sunday.

Holloway, the 21st player in SEC history with at least 1,400 points and 1,000 rebounds, was back in class the next day. He was welcomed with a standing ovation when he walked through the door.

"It's been good," Holloway, who holds the all-time Ole Miss rebounding mark, said of the added attention he's received on campus. "A lot of love."

Head coach Andy Kennedy heard from a number of former players, from Sean Tuohy, the Ole Miss and SEC all-time assists leader, to Jason Harrison, a veteran of March Madness and member of the Sweet Sixteen team, and Joe Harvell, who earned All-SEC accolades in three of his four seasons.

They called or texted or emailed or Skyped - all extending the congratulations to Kennedy, who will soon make his first NCAA tournament appearance as Ole Miss head coach.

"From Sean Tuohy to Marshall Henderson," Kennedy said. "You want to talk about taco loco."

Such is life as an NCAA tournament participant. Ole Miss, the No. 12 seed in the bracket's West Regional, will play No. 5 seed Wisconsin at 11:40 a.m. Friday.

Andy Kennedy
USA TODAY images

But as the week winds down, the more focused in these Rebels become. Because while the celebration carried over well into Monday and Tuesday, and continues to an extent today, there's work yet. Ole Miss is in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002.

"I think we belong," Holloway said. "Like coach told us when we played Florida, he asked if we thought we belonged here at halftime. He said play like you belong here, you've earned it. We've earned it."

There's arguably no matchup in the bracket pitting such contrasting teams against each other than Ole Miss (26-8) and Wisconsin (23-11). "As different as night is to day," Kennedy said. "It's a huge swing in styles."

Ole Miss like to push the pace, play its games in the 70s and 80s and create offense off of turnovers. Wisconsin, however, would rather slow things down and protect the ball. The Badgers don't just look for a good shot in their offensive sets, but the perfect shot.

Ole Miss is in the top-10 in scoring offense, while Wisconsin boasts a top-10 scoring defense. The Badgers are holding their opponents to point totals, on average, in the 50s.

"Two totally opposite teams," Holloway said. "I think whoever is better at what they do will get the win. I've watched them a lot. They've beaten real good teams in the Big 10. They can shoot it and defend."

Senior guard Nick Williams is quite familiar with the style of basketball of the Big 10. He experienced it firsthand while at Indiana in 2008-09, where he played in 31 games, with 29 starts, and ranked fourth on the team with 8.9 points per game and third with 4.5 rebounds.

"It's real, man," he said. "I remember playing Wisconsin twice and it was different from what I'm used to now with everybody being in the shot clock all the time. The Big 10 is a slow game. It's a fight to score points in that style."

Williams said there's no real way to prepare for the plodding, methodical style of Wisconsin. The Rebels, he said, simply have to experience it for themselves.

"You've just got to go in and play your style," he said. "Whoever does what they do best Friday will probably win the game. We have to out-rebound them if we want to win and play our style."

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