To borrow from former Ole Miss defensive tackle Issac Gross, a recent guest on my podcast, Talk of Champions …
“I ain’t gonna tell you no stories.”
Ole Miss is still in contention for an NCAA Tournament berth. I know, I know. You’ve heard this before, and you’ve been burned too many times this season. But hear me out. The bubble is weak. Some bracketologists have even gone so far as to declare this year’s crop of bubble teams as historically weak. And it’s easy to see why.
Clemson, currently in bubble contention, has a 4-11 record in its conference. Providence is 16-11 with two wins of any real consequence. The Arkansas Razorbacks, who ran away from Ole Miss on Saturday, has little to hang their hat on resume-wise.
The Rebels, meanwhile, have an RPI rank of 71. Ole Miss is 5-11 against the RPI Top 130, with wins over Vanderbilt (No. 49), Tennessee (No. 50), Auburn (No. 85), Memphis (No. 109) and MSU (No. 130). The Rebels’ 11 losses this season have come against No. 3 Baylor, No. 8 Kentucky, No. 10 Florida, No. 22 Creighton, No. 30 South Carolina, No. 31 Middle Tennessee, No. 33 Arkansas, No. 35 Virginia Tech, No. 50 Tennessee, No. 59 Georgia and No. 95 Texas A&M. Ole Miss boasts the 39th-toughest strength of schedule, and the Rebels have played the 38th-toughest non-conference schedule according to ESPN.com.
Yes, Ole Miss’ resume is flawed and riddled with warts — a rather apt description of the team in general. But look around. The same could be said of pretty much the entire field the Rebels are competing against.
So if you put away your frustrations from this up-and-down season and look at the numbers objectively, it’s fairly easy to determine Ole Miss has a chance. The question is whether the Rebels will take advantage of the opportunities — and weak field — in front of them. They haven’t won three straight in SEC play. Before conference games tipped off in earnest in January, it was widely understood Ole Miss needed at least an 11-7 record. The Rebels have three games left, including a regular-season-ending home date with South Carolina. The Gamecocks are No. 30 in the RPI. Make no mistake: Ole Miss has to win all three.
South Carolina would count as the Rebels’ elusive signature win. They let Baylor and Creighton slip through their hands. History isn’t on their side. But they have no choice. If nothing else, Tuesday night was an encouraging sign for the weeks ahead.
Despite the ugliness of the Rebels’ overtime win over Mississippi State — an 87-82 final, marking the seventh win in the last eight tries over the in-state rival — there were a number of positives. Breein Tyree continued his emergence as a future SEC star. He totaled a career-high 24 points. Sebastian Saiz returned to form and recorded his seventh 20-point, 10-rebound game of the season, which is the most in the SEC. It was his 18th double-double. No player in the conference has more than eight. Ole Miss was able to overcome a quiet night for Terence Davis, who has all but carried the Rebels for a month. All good things.
Yes, Ole Miss fan, you have every reason to be skeptical. But Ole Miss, despite everything, is very much alive for the NCAA Tournament. An 11-7 finish and two-win showing in the SEC tournament would be momentum enough to potentially carry Ole Miss to the Big Dance over a field littered with similarly frustrating teams.
I ain’t gonna tell you no stories. The math doesn’t lie.
Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy
On the win: “That’s eight for nine … or seven for eight, I’m sorry. I’m thinking ahead. Usually you don’t win games when you don’t play better. We didn’t play very good. When you look at a guy that’s our leading scorer (Deandre Burnett) goes 1-13, 0-9 (from 3), clean looks but could not make one. He had played as well at Arkansas, from a rhythm standpoint, as he had all year. I thought Sebas really gave us great effort. But we couldn’t guard at the end. He has five turnovers vs. the double (team). Terence Davis, who’s be our best player for the last month, goes 4-16, 1-6 from 3, chokes off those two free throws, is the one that has the turnover. You’re not supposed to win those games. We have eight scholarship bodies. Rasheed (Brooks) isn’t here, Donte (Fitzpatrick-Dorsey) doesn’t play very much. So I’m really riding seven guys. We have foul trouble across the board. But our guys just persevered. They continued to battle, our defense kept us in it. We turned it over 22 times. I thought the changing of the looks kept them out of rhythm and allowed us to come in and win a game based off of sheer effort.” On the defensive effort: “This was not our best anything other than the best feeling that we’re going to have on that bus ride home. This wasn’t best anything. I thought we guarded at times. I thought we held them at bay. At the end, they were driving us. I.J. Ready did a great job of just driving it. We’re up nine with three to play, you should put this thing away. We had a couple of clean looks that didn’t go, a couple of boneheaded plays, a couple of questionable calls and the game gets to overtime. I thought we were deflated. My lone Mississippian, Terence Davis, who understands the importance of this game, was so dejected because of what had transpired and the way he’d played down the stretch, most especially giving up the jump ball. I didn’t even know if I could put him back in the game, but I look around, we don’t have bodies. So we put him in. Breein scores the first eight. The reality is, if Rasheed is with us, I probably don’t allow Breein that much opportunity because he had five turnovers over in the game. I probably wouldn’t have had him in the game. But just based on sheer numbers, boy did he step up big time.” On what the game means to him: “I understand. My mom and dad are here. I grew up 30 minutes down the road. I get it. To me — and, again, it’s not the answer you want — it’s the next game. It’s great to win because Rebel nation wants us to win, and I like it when our fans like our coach. They don’t like their coach when you lose to these guys, and I’ve felt that. To me, it’s about that. It’s about giving them some in-state pride and making them feel good as Rebels. For me, man, I’m just proud we were able to come on the road and get our fourth SEC (road) win. Gets us to 8-7. Two of the next three at home. There’s still some life in us.”
STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — Breein Tyree had 24 points and Sebastian Saiz added 23 points and 10 rebounds as Ole Miss outlasted Mississippi State 87-82 in overtime on Tuesday night.
Mississippi State's I.J. Ready scored with one second left in regulation to cap a furious Bulldogs' rally, tie it at 67-all and send it to OT. However, the Rebels scored the first ten points in overtime and held on from there. Tyree hit a 3-pointer, converted a 3-point play and then hit two free throws before two foul shots by Justas Furmanavicius made it 77-67 with 2:23 remaining. Mississippi State missed its first five shots after regulation and Ole Miss made 10 of 12 from the stripe in the final 1:01 to seal it.
Terence Davis has 12 points and 10 rebounds and Deandre Burnett scored 10 for Ole Miss (17-11, 8-7 Southeastern Conference), which has won five of its last seven games.
Ready led Mississippi State (14-13, 5-10) with a season-high 20 points and Mario Kegler had 15 points with eight rebounds. Quinndary Weatherspoon added 14 points and Xavian Stapleton scored 11.