Ole Miss (20-13) is a No. 5 seed in the NIT after having its NCAA Tournament hopes dashed with a quarterfinals loss to Arkansas in the SEC tournament over the weekend. The Rebels will travel to face No. 4 seed Monmouth (27-6) in the first round. Should Ole Miss win, the Rebels would advance to face either No. 1 seed Syracuse or No. 8 seed UNC-Greensboro in the second round. The final four teams of the 32-team tournament will meet in Madison Square Garden in New York the weekend of March 28 to crown a champion. Cal, Iowa and Illinois State are the other top seeds.
Tipoff between Ole Miss and Monmouth is set for 6 p.m. CT. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3. Ole Miss will be making its first NIT appearance since 2012. The Rebels reached the NCAA Tournament in 2013 and 2015. Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy has twice led the Rebels to the NIT semifinals — first in 2008, and again in 2010. Ole Miss has won 20 or more games in nine of Kennedy’s 11 seasons.
Monmouth finished first in the MAAC this season. ESPN had Monmouth as the fifth-best team left out of the NCAA Tournament. Monmouth starts five seniors. Guard Justin Robinson averages a team-best 19.6 points per game.
“I think it's a huge benefit. I've said this before, it's been a while since we played in the NIT and I think it has merit. I think sometimes it gets -- you know, people look at it like, oh, it’s the old days. It’s really not. It's difficult to get in the NIT. Last year we went 20-12 and the couldn't get in. We didn't play in the other tournaments. No disrespect intended.
“There's 351 Division I basketball teams. There's 68 that go to the NCAA, 32 that go to the NIT. You finish in the top half of college basketball, you're good. It’s not easy. Since I've been following, I've grown up in SEC country. I never seen a football team turn down a bowl. There's so many bowl, you're looking for teams to fill them. We had one pretty close to our situation (Mississippi State) that gets in at 5-7.”
— Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy, on what it means to play in the NIT.
“Just grind it out. NIT, not a bad thing. Still get to play basketball. That's the part I get out of it.”
— Ole Miss guard Terence Davis.
Stat of the Day
Ole Miss, like other high-major teams, is dealing with an expanded NCAA Tournament field which now includes rising mid-majors like Gonzaga and Butler — teams that weren’t around snatching up bids 16 years ago. The tournament has expanded to an additional four teams, bringing the total to 68.
NCAA Division-I basketball consists of 351 schools in 32 conferences. Nineteen percent of teams get to the Big Dance in a given year. College football, by comparison, hands out bowl bids to a whopping 62 percent (80 of 128) of its teams each year. If football followed the basketball model of percentages, that would equate to just 24 teams earning a bowl berth.