And that’s a good thing.
The Rebels finished an inexplicable 9-7 inside Tad Smith Coliseum following an ugly 86-77 loss to Vanderbilt on senior night. The Commodores shot a blistering 54.5 percent from the floor, including 56.5 percent from 3-point range.
With the loss, Ole Miss (20-11, 11-7 SEC) will be the No. 6 seed in the SEC tournament next week, playing the winner of No. 11 South Carolina and No. 14 Missouri. Its RPI will probably drop to somewhere in the 50s.
But that’s where the bad news – at least for now – ends.
“Our name has not been mentioned one time in any bubble conversation. It probably will now,” Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. “We’ve probably put ourselves in a precarious situation where we probably now need to look at what other people are doing.”
If the bracket was announced tonight, the Rebels, who have lost three of their last four games, would be an NCAA tournament team. Their resume might scream bubble, but the back end of said bubble is so bad, Ole Miss can, at least for now, feel fairly secure in its position. If its win over Alabama didn’t all but lock up a bid, it at least provided Ole Miss the assurance it would have to play its way out of the field.
A loss next Thursday in Nashville, Tenn., however, might do just that.
“We’ve still got work left to do,” senior forward M.J. Rhett, who scored a team-leading 18 points against Vanderbilt, said. “We feel like we need to win a few games to make sure we’d be a lock for the NCAA tournament. We needed this one today, but we just gave it up. We let them do what they wanted to do.”
USA Today bracketologist Shelby Mast told the Clarion-Ledger the Rebels now find themselves “much closer” to the bubble, “maybe 11 seed.” Now isn’t the time to be laying eggs.
Ole Miss laid a heckuva one Saturday.
“We’ve never been mentioned as a bubble team by one person, nor were we mentioned at the start of the season by one person as an NCAA tournament team,” Kennedy said. “Not one. Not one in this room, not one in the nation predicted the Ole Miss Rebels to be an NCAA tournament team. Not one.
“We’re going to Nashville, we’ve got another opportunity to play. I hope we play better than we did tonight.”
It’s hard to make heads or tails of the Rebels’ inability to protect home floor, especially considering Kennedy-coached teams compiled a 112-24 home record in his previous eight seasons.
That is, until you look at the numbers.
They shot 39.8 percent in all home games, including 30 percent from 3. They were even worse in their seven losses, making 35.4 percent of all attempts and 25.3 percent of their 3s.
“We don’t ever shoot good in here for some reason,” Rhett said. “Then we’ll go on the road and get a big win. It should be the complete opposite.”
Ole Miss is in reach of its second NCAA tournament appearance in three seasons because of its 11-4 road record. The Rebels boast away wins over No. 19 Arkansas, No. 23 Creighton, Cincinnati, Florida and Oregon – three of which are top-100 in the RPI.
The Rebels’ eight true road wins are their most since 1937-38.
The Pavilion at Ole Miss will open in time for SEC games in 2016. Ole Miss, which played video tributes to the “Tad Pad” throughout the night, will say goodbye to the long-past-its-prime building in short order.
But this Rebel team can’t leave the fading coliseum and its leaky roof fast enough.
“I don’t want to say I’m happy (to have no more home games), but I’m ready to get to Nashville and try to make a run at this tournament,” Rhett said.
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