But another Saturday at home against Vanderbilt would leave no doubt.
That’s the approach sophomore forward Sebastian Saiz and the Rebels (20-10, 11-6 SEC) are taking heading into the final game of the regular season. Ole Miss last reached the NCAA tournament in 2013, at the time its first appearance in over a decade.
“We get one more win, we have a secure seed in the NCAA tournament,” Saiz, who is fourth on the team with 7.6 points per game and first in rebounds with 5.3, said. “That was the goal this season – to get to the NCAA tournament and do well over there.”
Also up for grabs is seeding in next week’s SEC tournament. The Rebels would be the No. 3 seed if the season ended today. But they could finish as low as sixth with a loss to Vanderbilt (18-12, 8-9 SEC) and depending on other outcomes across the league.
Nashville would become a drama-free trip if Ole Miss is able to protect home floor, where it is 9-6 on the year. The Rebels are No. 45 in the latest RPI rankings released by the NCAA, and they're 4-5 against the RPI top-50. Vanderbilt is ranked 102.
“This is week nine, last game of the season until we get to the tournaments,” Saiz said. “And it’s senior night, so it’s got to be the most important game for these guys who are leaving Ole Miss. I bet they’re going to go out with more energy and expect to show everybody that they’re thankful for all these years they were here at Ole Miss.”
A CASE OF DEPTH:
Alabama was a must-win game.
Just ask Saiz.
The Rebels suffered back-to-back losses for the first time all season against Georgia and LSU last week. However, they rebounded with an 82-74 win over the Crimson Tide. They got contributions from most everyone, including three players who scored double-digit points.
But none was more instrumental in the win than LaDarius “Snoop” White.
“It was a must-win game. We knew if we lost the game it was going to be three in a row and we couldn’t have been tied with Georgia and LSU. We knew it was a must-win game,” Saiz said.
“Snoop saved us. He played really good.”
White, who hadn’t scored in double figures in his last five games, totaled 19 points on 7 of 9 from the floor. He was 4 of 5 from 3, with one of his makes a buzzer-beater prior at the end of the first half.
“He showed everybody when he’s confident he can score 20 easy against anybody,” Saiz said. “We need him. He’s a senior. He’s got a couple more games in his college career. We need him to be one of the leaders of our team.”
“Snoop struggled in the last two or three weeks,” Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. “Huge, huge effort from him. My hope is it will give him the confidence to finish this thing strong. He let it go in rhythm and made big plays for us.”
White shot 27 percent over his five-game slump. Ole Miss was 2-3 in those games.
“This was a big game for our NCAA tournament resume,” White said afterwards. “We haven’t done enough. We have to go to the Tad Pad and handle business.”
White’s big night showed again why Ole Miss is on the cusp of returning to the NCAA tournament. Unlike a year ago when the Rebels were almost exclusively dependent on Marshall Henderson and Jarvis Summers to score, this Rebel team has depth to overcome lack of production from its star players.
Summers, for example, is averaging 12.2 points per game this season, down from 17.3 ppg as a junior. He’s scored no more than seven points in seven of his last 10 games.
“I think this year’s team has more depth,” Saiz said. “We have a lot more good players. Last year we were expecting Marshall to make all the shots. If Marshall didn’t it have it one night, we were not going to win the game. This year we’ve got (Stefan) Moody, we’ve got Jarvis, we’ve got Snoop, M.J. (Rhett), Dwight (Coleby) and I can pull for the team, too.”
Saturday’s matchup will be the 118th meeting between Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. ... The Commodores hold a 74-42 lead in the series, but Ole Miss has won the last four meetings ... The Rebels are 31-23 against Vanderbilt in Oxford, but have lost four of the last six in Tad Smith. ... Ole Miss ranks second in the SEC averaging 10.3 turnovers a game in conference play. The Rebels are third in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.3. ... Vanderbilt has won seven of its last nine league games after starting SEC play 1-7. ... Sophomore C Damian Jones leads the team averaging 14.5 points per game and pulling down 6.43 rebounds. ... Ole Miss is 7-1 on Senior Day under Kennedy.