Primer: Ole Miss - Missouri

Ole Miss (15-7, 6-3 SEC) hosts Missouri (16-6, 4-5 SEC) today at 4 p.m. What to watch for? We take a look.

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Game: Ole Miss - Missouri
Date: Feb. 8, 4 p.m.
Location: Oxford, Miss.
TV/Radio: FSN/Ole Miss Radio Network

The Lede:

Southeastern Conference basketball has an image problem.

Without question, SEC football, with its seven-straight national championships prior to Florida State winning this season, dominates the national landscape. Not so much in basketball.

In the last few years at least, the league has all but scratched and clawed to earn three - or, God forbid, four - bids to the NCAA tournament, despite comparable resumes to mid-major teams who always seem to fill out those coveted at-large spots in the 68-team bracket.

The SEC is in a chronic state of being "down" in the minds of college basketball pundits and media types. Such a declaration has virtually become a year-in and year-out narrative, one the conference can't seem to shake. Some might struggle to remember the last time the SEC was considered "up."

Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy, whose team is 15-7 overall and 6-3 in the SEC and hosts Missouri today at 4 p.m., has his own theory.

Andy Kennedy
File Photo

"I just think it's a company line," he said. "I do think there is a bias in the national media because they get tired of talking about the SEC because it dominates in football. They just get tired of it, so when there's an opportunity to talk about something else, that's what they're going to do.

"Our league, it'll start shaking out in the next two or three weeks. You'll start seeing the pretenders from the contenders, and that'll be the case in any league. I don't get too caught up in that with my group because I just think that we've got to find a way to get better. Let's get better. Let's improve. I can't be a big-picture thinker with this group. It's not productive. For us, it's about getting better."

Kennedy said the SEC, as a whole, is in a better place as compared to this time last season. He's right, too.

The SEC finished with three sub-200 RPI teams a year ago. A year later, the worst team in the league, South Carolina, has an RPI rank of 167, according to Eight of the 14 league teams are in the RPI top-100. The SEC is seventh among all conferences in RPI, trailing the ACC, ranked sixth, by .011 percentage points.

"I think the league is sitting in a much better place than it was at this time last year. The biggest reason being, even the teams at the bottom, it's not so weighty at the bottom," Kennedy said. "We had two or three plus-200 RPI teams last year, and we lost to a couple of them. As a result, it makes the climb very difficult to get up and out of. This year, that's not the case. Vanderbilt, for instance. Many think they're down, and Kevin Stallings has done a masterful job, but if you look today, they're in the 60s in the RPI. The numbers still give you some life."

The SEC earned only three NCAA tournament bids in 2013. In the past five years, the league has averaged 3.8 teams in the tournament each season. Depending on how the conference schedule plays out, that number isn't likely to change.

Kennedy said the SEC being considered a football conference doesn't help matters. But neither does SEC teams winning only 3 of 18 non-conference games against teams ranked in the top-25 of the RPI, and 11 of 24 against the RPI top-50.

In the end, the numbers, and only the numbers, have to make sense to the NCAA tournament selection committee. Image? Not so much.

"I think those people don't get caught up in that," Kennedy said of the committee members. "We all deal with human nature, but the numbers are going to say what the numbers are going to say. The numbers on that piece of paper have to make sense. If they make sense, then our league will be properly represented."

Scouting Missouri:
(Ole Miss Athletics Media Relations)

Missouri is 16-6 on the season and 4-5 in the SEC after falling on the road at No. 3 Florida 68-58 Tuesday. The Tigers are 10-2 at home this season, but just 3-3 in road games with all three losses coming in SEC play.

Jabari Brown
USA TODAY images

Oregon transfer Jabari Brown leads the SEC in scoring at 20.1 points per game in conference play, while Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson ranks sixth in the league at 18.7 ppg. Mizzou ranks fifth in the SEC in scoring in league games at 74.2 ppg, two spots behind Ole Miss. The Tigers also ranks second in the conference in 37.5 percent of their 3-pointers in SEC action. Missouri averages 11.4 turnovers per game in SEC play, while only forcing 10.8/game.

Ole Miss and Missouri have play just three times with all three meetings coming last season in the Tigers' first year in the SEC. The Rebels knocked off Missouri 64-49 in January before falling 97-87 in Columbia the next month. Ole Miss took third contest with a thrilling 64-62 win at the SEC Tournament in Nashville. Sophomore G Derrick Millinghaus made a driving basket with 1.1 seconds left as Ole Miss rallied from a 14-point, second-half deficit en route to the SEC Tournament title.

(Ole Miss Athletics Media Relations)

* Junior G Jarvis Summers is one of the most improved players in the league this season upping his scoring 8.4 points per game (17.5 from 9.1), field goal percentage 10.4 percent (50.8% from 40.4%) and his 3-point field goal percentage 18.2 percent (52.2% from 34.0%) over last year's totals. Summers has led the Rebels in scoring a team-high 10 times including a career-best 29 points in Ole Miss' overtime loss to Dayton. He has posted 7 20+ points games this season and is averaging 19.5 points per game over the last 11 contests. Summers ranks eighth in the league in scoring (17.5 ppg), sixth in field goal percentage (.508) and third in assists (3.9/game). He is the only player in the league to rank in the top-10 in the SEC in scoring and field goal percentage and top-5 in assists.

* Senior G Marshall Henderson recently became the 34th member of the 1,000-point club at Ole Miss vs. Vanderbilt and ranks 29th in school history with 1,084 career points. He is just the fourth player in Rebel history to eclipse the 1,000-point mark in two seasons joining Denver Brackeen, Gerald Glass and Don Kessinger. Junior G Jarvis Summers became the 35th member of the 1,000-point club at Ole Miss versus Mississippi State and ranks 32nd in school history with 1,047 career points.

* Winning at home has been a trademark of Andy Kennedy's squads since he took the reins in 2006-07. Ole Miss is 109-22 (.832 win pct.) in games played at Tad Smith Coliseum during Kennedy's tenure, including a 4-0 record in SEC play this season. The Rebels had their 23 game non-conference home winning streak dating back to 2010 snapped earlier this season with the loss to No. 13 Oregon. Ole Miss has won 240 of its last 294 games (.816 win pct.) in Oxford dating back to the 1995-96 campaign. The Rebels have an all-time record of 473-201 (.702 win pct.) at Tad Smith Coliseum, which opened in 1965-66.

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