Time to Dance
Ole Miss is dancing anyway.
Despite limping towards the postseason, losing four of their last five games, the Rebels are headed to the NCAA tournament. A No. 11 seed, they’ll take on BYU in a play-in game in Dayton, Ohio, at 8:10 CST Tuesday.
Should they win, they’ll advance to play No. 6 seed Xavier in Jacksonville, Fla., in the second round. Ole Miss was 43rd on the seed list released by the NCAA, meaning the Rebels were first of the last four at-large teams in ahead of BYU, Boise State and Dayton.
“We have new life,” head coach Andy Kennedy said. “There’s new energy within our team. We’ve got veterans. We’ve been through this before. Hopefully we can get them enough information that gives us a chance on Tuesday.”
The Rebels had to sweat out Selection Sunday and the wait was long (they were the last team announced on CBS), but Ole Miss made the field of 68 for the second time in three seasons after a decade-long absence.
The selection came as a relief after Thursday night, a disappointing loss to South Carolina in the SEC tournament. Ole Miss lost in brutal fashion in the final seconds in what many considered a must-win game for its NCAA tournament hopes.
“I was surprised,” senior guard Jarvis Summers said of the selection. “I just felt like we could have had a better season. But we’re thankful. We’re blessed. We just got to make something happen.”
“It’s one thing to lose a basketball game,” Kennedy said. “But the way in which we lost ... that took a little getting over in and of itself. Our focus was on controlling on our destiny by winning basketball games. Once that ended, obviously it was nerve-wracking to say the least.”
It’s been a strange season for the Rebels, to say the least.
They finished with a 20-12 record but with seven of their losses coming at home. Their resume was boosted by 11 road wins, including wins at Oregon and Arkansas, as well a neutral-site victory over Cincinnati.
Ole Miss was No. 54 in the official NCAA RPI rankings entering today. The Rebels had an 8-9 record against the RPI top-100 and claimed three wins in six games vs. the RPI top-35.
“Our season, we certainly took a circuitous route to get to where we wanted to be, and it certainly was not one I would have chosen,” Kennedy said. “Ultimately we arrived at our destination.”
“It was difficult,” Summers said. “Our mind was just on the tournament and whether we were going to get in or not. We’re in there. I was happy.”
For the Rebels, especially Kennedy, the weekend was filled with scoreboard watching, and the results couldn’t have gone much better.
Other teams on the bubble or attempting to play their way in – UCLA, Texas A&M, Richmond, Illinois, Miami (Fla.), UConn and Old Dominion – all lost, and the selection committee left the back door open for Ole Miss.
Kennedy paid attention pretty much all weekend, much to the chagrin of his dog, who Kennedy said responds manically to celebratory expression.
“Needless to say, the dog was going crazy a lot,” Kennedy said.
Summers said he didn’t watch all that much. He’d catch up on the last four in every once and a while through the SportsCenter ticker.
“I had faith,” he said.
Now comes BYU. The Cougars are 25-9 on the year and have won eight of their last nine games. They lost to Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference championship.
“I saw them play like last week when they played Gonzaga in the championship,” Summers said. “They’re a very good team. They play smart, they play together. They pass the ball real good and make shots.”
“I’m a college basketball fan, so I’ve seen them play,” Kennedy said. “Very talented. It’ll be a tremendous challenge, but we’re just glad that we have the opportunity for that challenge.”
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