COLUMN: Panic Time?

If Ole Miss wins its final two games, the Rebels will make the NCAA tournament. Period. They might only need one, but they’d do well to not test fate.

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Now, back to your freak out.

But seriously, Ole Miss has dropped back-to-back games for the first time all season following a lopsided loss at LSU. As promising as how the game started, the end result was ugly. Really, really ugly.

The Rebels led, 26-15, midway through the first half, only to be outscored 58-37 the rest of the way en route to a 73-63 final. The back court trio of Jarvis Summers, Stefan Moody and Ladarius White combined to shoot 7 of 29 from the field and score 28 points. Summers and White were particularly bad as LSU focused on stopping Moody, the reigning SEC Player of the Week. They scored all of 13 points on 4 of 13 shooting.

Ole Miss fans have, understandably, responded with a bit of panic. A bad week means the season is, for all intents and purposes, over. The NIT awaits. Back to the bubble.

Reality paints a different picture, however. The Rebels entered play well-positioned for an NCAA tournament berth. They were 43rd in RPI according to WarrenNolan.com. They’re now 47. Jerry Palm of CBS had Ole Miss as a No. 8 seed in his recent bracket, as did ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. Ole Miss will fall, sure, but not very far. Saturday was more of a resume-builder for LSU than a crippling back-breaker for the Rebels.

Basketball isn’t football. In football, living in extremes is at least somewhat justifiable. One loss is the potential difference in a winning or losing season, a Playoff Six bowl or a date in Nashville, Tenn., for the Music City Bowl. Basketball doesn’t work that way.

Ole Miss had a bad week, yes, and the Rebels have some glaring issues they’ll have to correct as they turn to the final week of the regular season. At this point, Summers can’t be counted on for night in, night out production, so LaDarius White has to be better, as does Anthony Perez and Terence Smith. They don’t have to set the world on fire, simply contribute more than they did Saturday. Fifteen points won’t cut it.

Ole Miss won the rebounding battle against LSU, but it paid dearly for its 17 turnovers, something it didn’t do much in its run of eight conference wins in nine games. The Rebels once led the nation in free throw percentage. They missed eight Saturday, including five head-scratchers by Summers, a 77 percent shooter from the line. He seems like a player who’s lost all confidence in every shot he takes.

Basketball is a game of runs, and the Rebels are in a two-game funk. Fortunately, their remaining games are winnable. Ole Miss, historically, hasn’t had great success at Alabama. But the Rebels have proven to be a good road team all season – the loss to LSU, which snapped a four-game SEC road winning streak, notwithstanding. Their inability to protect home floor, where they’re 9-6 on the year, is puzzling. But while Vanderbilt is playing better, the Rebels are the better team. NCAA tournament teams find a way to win those games, and Ole Miss has made a living this season finding a way.

That’s why I give the Rebels the benefit of the doubt … for now. Because panic doesn’t make much sense. They control their own destiny just as much today as they did yesterday. But they have to win.

And I’m not ready to say they won’t.


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