The final week of the regular season is here, and with it just two more games that will define the Rebels’ postseason resume heading into the SEC tournament in Nashville, Tenn., next week.
Ole Miss (19-10, 10-6 SEC) dropped consecutive games for the first time all season in losses to Georgia and LSU last week. The Rebels are still widely projected to make the NCAA tournament field. However, their margin for error is all but gone, and one additional loss would cement their place on or just outside the bubble. Two would mean they’d likely need a 2013-like run in Music City.
“It is a new experience,” Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. “We had a rough week. Played two really good teams and played hard enough to win, but we didn’t play well enough to win. In this league, as competitive as it is from top to bottom, you have to play well to win games.
“Our group has been tremendous all year in their approach. I think they’re eager for the next opportunity. They know the position that they’ve put themselves in. I think they’ll respond with the energy and the focus that we expect. Our hope is we’ll play well enough to win.”
Ole Miss ranks No. 50 in the latest RPI rankings released by the NCAA – a significant fall from the 30s a week ago. The Rebels are 3-7 against the RPI top-50 and 7-7 against the top-100.
In his current projection, CBS bracketologist Jerry Palm has Ole Miss as a No. 9 seed playing No. 8 Ohio State in Charlotte. USA Today’s Shelby Mast has the Rebels as a No. 11 seed.
Basically, the Rebels have some work to do. Along with their now-tenuous NCAA tournament prospects, they’re no longer in line for a top-four seed in the SEC tournament and a two-round bye. The Rebels would be the No. 6 seed if the season ended today.
“Two more difficult challenges starting with tomorrow night in Tuscaloosa against a good Alabama team. They’re – as we all are, I suppose – a bounce here or there away from having five or six more wins,” Kennedy said.
Ole Miss travels to face Alabama (17-12, 7-9 SEC) tonight at 6 p.m. The Crimson Tide have an RPI rank of 82 and are 4-4 in their last eight SEC games. Senior guard Levi Randolph leads the team in scoring with 14.8 points per game. Sophomore Michael Kessens is pulling down a team-best 5.9 rebounds.
Kennedy believes the Rebels, who are 10-4 away from home this season, are up for the challenge ahead, saying the team responded well in practice Sunday. It starts on the offensive end, where Ole Miss has struggled mightily in its last five games, making only 38.5 percent from the field and 30.8 from 3-point range.
“We’ve got a couple of guys struggling,” Kennedy said. “All I know how to do is to make sure we’re getting reps and put them in a position where we feel they can play to their strengths. And then from there, they’ve got to take some ownership. That’s what they’ve done.”
A win over Alabama would give Ole Miss 20 wins for the seventh time in nine seasons under Kennedy. ... The Rebels have 35 wins against SEC foes over the last three years trailing only Florida and Kentucky. ... Ole Miss’ strength of schedule ranks 22nd in the nation according to ESPN.com. ... Ole Miss is meeting Alabama for the 174th time in history. The Crimson Tide hold a 118-55 lead in the series. ... The Rebels have won five of the last eight against Alabama.
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