Because at least for Kennedy, having some fun at the expense of the absurdity was better than any alternative.
The Rebels, who are a No. 5 seed in the NIT, arrived in West Long, N.J., later in the day for a Tuesday night game against No. 4 seed Monmouth, which, on its face, is a rather innocuous truth for Ole Miss basketball.
Thing is, West Long is under a blizzard warning until 6 p.m. ET, but an hour prior to when Ole Miss and Monmouth are supposed to tip off in the NIT first round. A state of emergency has been issued for New York and New Jersey, and snow began to fall around 1 a.m. Tuesday morning.
“I talked to Rick Callahan who’s (Monmouth head coach) King’s (Rice) right-hand guy, and I’ve known coach Callahan for a long time,” Kennedy said. “He said he’s going to warm up the snow dogs. We’re going to get the snow dogs ready, the snow plow, and by golly we’re going to get up there.”
Ole Miss arrived Monday afternoon with no issues and participated in a shootaround at OceanFirst Bank Center. But whether the weather cooperates and allows for the game — set for broadcast on ESPN3 — to go on as scheduled remains to be seen.
Ole Miss has now reached the postseason eight times in 11 years under Kennedy, including six NIT appearances. The Rebels had just 12 postseason appearances in the 96 years prior to Kennedy’s arrival. They boast a 13-11 all-time record in 12 NIT appearances.
“I think what’s going to be the toughest for us is avoiding hypothermia,” Kennedy said. “The five-seed was not a huge surprise to me, but the fact that we were being shipped into a snow storm. I would like to propose that next year in the NIT room, wherever that is, that at least one of those channels be turned onto the Weather Channel. Not only are we dealing with a pretty quick turn, and we’ve got (New Jersey native) Breein Tyree, who’s really excited about it, but also Shepard Smith, a faithful Ole Miss alum, is working in a pretty big job in New York City, and they’re all saying this place is about to get crushed with snow.
“We’re just concerned about getting up there, getting to the gym, making sure the game’s going to go on. I’m follicly challenged, so I was digging deep this morning to find a suitable hat to avoid hypothermia. When I got into my office this morning, I wanted to make sure DirecTV was still in business, and it is. It’s channel 362 for the committee next year. That’s the Weather Channel if they want to tune into that before they start setting these seeds.”
Ole Miss was 20-13 this season. Monmouth was 27-6. Tuesday’s winner will advance to face either No. 1 seed Syracuse or No. 8 UNC-Greensboro. Should the Rebels move on, their second-round game would take place either Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday.
“We’re certainly excited to have the opportunity to play,” Kennedy, who holds a 7-5 record in the NIT, said. “We were disappointed with a close loss in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament. I was hopeful — especially for my two seniors, Sebastian Saiz and Rasheed Brooks — we would have the opportunity to continue playing. We’re packing our snow boots, I’m pulling out my toboggan and we’re about to go plane, trains and automobiles north.”
Monmouth won the MAAC regular season and 18 conference games for the first time in the league’s history. Justin Robinson leads three Hawks in double-digit scoring at 19.3 points per game. Deon Jones averages a team-best 6.3 rebounds, and he’s the third-leading scorer with 10.4 points per game.
“Love King Rice. He and I go way back,” Kennedy said. “Without question the most successful two-year run of anybody in college basketball that has not had the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament. It breaks my heart. He’s got as special group, led by a great group of seniors. I’m not super familiar with them other than what we saw last night. Thank goodness technology is such that not only can you get the Weather Channel, but you can pull up game film of Monmouth. I was really impressed as I did an all-nighter trying to get up to speed prior to getting out my snow boots.
“At this stage of the season, we’ve played 33 games. Both teams are going to do what we do. They’re not going to be super familiar with us. For us, it’s just a quick turn. Watching them on tape, super impressed. Fifty-five wins in the last two years and not having the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament is borderline cruelty. It’s going to be a big challenge for us. Our guys will be excited about playing.”
Weather permitting, of course.