It's March and there's madness.
Carol Ross and company are heading back to the Big Dance and all the madness that is the NCAA Tournament, while many who follow Rod Barnes' program are just plain mad.
It's March, and while the announcements of the tourney fields don't come for almost two weeks, the Lady Rebels have solidified their long-awaited return to prominence in the NCAA Tournament.
At 18-9 overall and 8-6 in the SEC, it's the best season since 1995-96 when they won 18, and the best in league play since 1991-92 when they didn't lose a game and were conference champs.
Since the NCAA tourney was started in 1982, Ole Miss has been a part of 15 Big Dances. This year will make 16. That's still Top 15 nationally all-time as far as appearances go.
Among SEC teams, the Lady Rebels have been to the NCAA Tournament more times than all but four programs – Tennessee, Georgia, Auburn, and Vanderbilt.
The men's program will miss out on the Big Dance for the third straight year after going to the NCAA Tournament five of the previous six seasons (1997-2002 with only a 2000 NIT appearance breaking the string).
Before that, the Rebels had only been to the Dance once – in 1981. That's six appearances all-time since the NCAA men's tourney was started in 1939, last among the 12 SEC schools.
Wednesday night the Rebels will have another Senior Night as seven seniors play their last game at the Tad Pad. They'll have to win the SEC tourney in Atlanta to make the NCAA field this year. Barring a four-day miracle run in Georgia, that won't happen.
Marvin Moore, Kendrick Fox, Justin Johnson, Cavadas Nunnery, Ed Glass, Chris Rhodes, and Tommie Eddie.
Fox, Johnson, Nunnery, and Rhodes were all here the last time the Rebels played in the NCAA Tournament. The other three were juco transfers.
Moore – Signed in the spring of 2003. Athletic, bright, had some good nights when he got the chance, especially at Auburn this year. His lack of playing time was questioned by many and probably could have been an even greater contributor had he gotten more playing time. Sometimes the coaches didn't feel he was a good matchup against certain foes. Guess we'll never know.
Fox – I remember when he signed out of high school at Lafayette County here that I wondered how good he could be since I hadn't heard that much about him or kept up that much with him in his high school days. When I stopped covering high school sports, I quit going to as many games; therefore I didn't know as much about players in the area.
Fox tore an ACL in October of his senior year at LCHS and played some that year anyway; in 16 games actually. He had reconstructive surgery in the spring of 2001 and came to Ole Miss that fall, playing in 31 Rebel games as a freshman.
With the wicked-looking shot (Chuck calls it the ole ear-wax shot), when Fox was on he could light it up. This year he missed a couple of big 3-point shots in games late – namely one against Kentucky and another at Mississippi State – that might have spelled victory for the Rebels.
Johnson – A player who worked hard throughout his career to contribute. Probably was more of a role player than a starter, but he has been forced into the starter's role because of some defections from the program.
Johnson, like Fox, was a recruit during the Sweet Sixteen season. His family moved here from North Carolina to be a part of his college career at Ole Miss. He's seen extensive action all four years and played in 30 games his first year here.
Nunnery – Still a walkon, Nunnery has played a significant role for the Rebels the past couple of years. A mature leader and role model for the younger players, Nunnery will leave Ole Miss with a degree and with four years' college basketball experience, all without the aid of a scholarship.
Glass – Signed with Ole Miss in the spring of 2003 after a solid career at Kaskaskia (Ill.) CC when the Rebels needed some guard help after the defections of Trey Pearson and Jonathan Loe. Hard worker who didn't contribute all that much in the games in two years but got a little more PT this season.
Rhodes – Signed out of high school with Fox and Johnson. Played in 15 games as a freshman and had a desire to return home to Houston, Texas, to be near his family early in his career. But he stayed and stuck it out, and he's another player who hasn't contrinuted a ton on the court for the Rebs. Mostly this year he was sent in at center to relieve Eddie when he got into foul trouble.
Eddie – One of the bright spots for the Rebels the past couple of seasons. Worked extremely hard and dedicated himself to help the Rebels inside, a position they had little to work with otherwise.
Because of how he worked to get into shape and his emotional personality and his patented reverse layups, we'll remember the big man from the burrough of Brooklyn for a long time.
It's a class of seniors large in number and big in heart and work ethic. But they will leave here remembered more for losing than winning, and that's too bad considering the success of the Rebels before and also when they got here.
I'll remember them most for their work ethic and attitude. They were always willing to give those of us who covered them time - in losing as well as in winning.
After yet another loss to Mississippi State last weekend, Fox and Eddie waited around for a long time at our requests and searched to give us answers that just weren't there:
*** How did this one get away?
*** How tough is it to lose to State basically every time you've played them?
*** Will this team be able to recover to try to finish strong and have a winning season, which is still within reach?
Rod Barnes could answer the last one for us. He's said these players always come to work no matter if they've won or lost.
And he wants a win for them in their last game in Oxford, even though the opponent will prove to be quite the challenge.
"LSU is one of the hottest teams in our league," Rod said of the Tigers, 17-8 overall and 10-4 in SEC play, tied for first in the West with Alabama. "They present problems for us inside. They hurt us inside down there. It will be Senior Night for us. Obviously it will be emotional for us. I won't have to give a big pep talk. We've had some success here on Senior Night. Our players will respond. It will be huge for our seniors to go out on a winning note at home and keep alive hope for a winning season."
There's a junior on the team that's has been asked about a lot by fans lately – Londrick Nolen.
The juco transfer from Memphis scored 25 points in an Ole Miss win against Louisiana-Monroe early in the season, most points scored in a single game by a Rebel this year.
He pulled down 12 rebounds in a loss at Arkansas, tied for most this season by a Rebel.
He blocked fours shots against Air Force in the Milwaukee tourney, most in a game by a Rebel this season.
He was the Rebels' leading scorer much of this season. Lately he hasn't seen the court much.
Barnes said after the Rebels' loss at MSU that it's fairly basic, the reasons Nolen hasn't played a lot lately.
"If you don't practice well and give great effort, you don't play," Barnes said. "That's why those other guys are out there. He hasn't practiced well. I gave him a shot to start again (at MSU). But in those first two plays, he missed assignments we had talked about. You can't win (at MSU) missing assignments. Basically that was it.
"If you follow instructions and follow the gameplan, and Lawrence Roberts jumps over you or Gary Ervin runs past you or Shane Power makes a 3, I can accept that. But I'm not going to accept being in the wrong place at the wrong time at the beginning of a game which is a huge game for us."
Rod said no more of the situation. It will be interesting to see how much action Nolen sees against LSU Wednesday night.
Joe Walker was a happy coach following the SEC Indoor Championships over the weekend. That's because his teams competed hard, fared well, and two of the tracksters won titles.
"Like everybody else, we want to do better," said Walker, whose Rebel team is ranked No. 13 nationally. "To have three SEC champions would have been something else and something we haven't had here since the 1980s."
Falling just short but almost claiming a title was senior Brandon Atkinson who placed second in the triple jump earning All-SEC honors for the first time in his career. Atkinson leaped 52-9.5 missing out on first place by just an inch and a half.
Bringing home titles were Antwon Hicks and Shantel Glass.
A senior, Hicks finally claimed the one title that had eluded him in his prestigious career by winning the 60-meter hurdle championship Sunday. Hicks ran a season's best time of 7.64 in claiming his first SEC title.
Also a senior, Glass took home his first SEC title by winning the long jump. With his winning leap of 25-4.50 on Saturday, which was the day before Hicks' win, Glass became the first Rebel to win an SEC title since Kendrick Triggs won the 200 meters at the 2003 SEC Indoor Championships.
"Antwon Hicks was great again," Walker said. "He is undefeated this season. He faced all the great ones in this meet that he will face again to try to win the NCAA. He's having a phenomenal year. He has God-given ability, works hard, is humble, and is a good student and great asset to Ole Miss.
"It was also great to see Shantel Glass win a title that had eluded him," Walker continued. "He was back from knee surgery last year, and he has worked so hard to come back strong. He's worked for everything he's got. He wasn't favored but won. This is his finest moment so far."
Walker's Lady Rebels are young and are having some success. But his men's team is making even more noise this year. The veteran coach says the new track facilities, including being able to work out in the new IPF, will continue to pay huge dividends for the program.
"They've paid off quicker than we thought," he said. "It will take a while to really see the improvement in recruiting, but as far as attitude and work ethic, these new facilities have given our team a mental lift. They feel better about things and work harder.
"And it also helps from the standpoint that our people would not have been as ready for these indoor meets had we not been able to get inside and work. To be able to get in there and use that facility has been a tremendous help to us."
Ole Miss hosts three track meets this spring, all on Saturdays – April 2, 9, and 23.
Press Box Notebook
OM Spirit Top Stories
Friday Focus: Ole Miss vs LSUOle Miss travels to Baton Rouge to face SEC West rival LSU on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. CT on ESPN.
OM SpiritYesterday at 11:48 PM
Rebels Preparing for Fournette, GuiceOle Miss defensive end John Youngblood has had his mind on stopping LSU running backs Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice this week.
OM SpiritYesterday at 6:45 AM
WRs Holding Each Other AccountableAfter some uncharacteristic drops in last Saturday's 34-30 loss against Arkansas, Ole Miss WR Quincy Adeboyejo says the Rebels are keeping each other accountable to prevent dropped…
OM SpiritYesterday at 12:51 AM
Pickett has major breakout potentialOle Miss landed Jamarko Pickett on Thursday. While being a bit off the radar, Pickett shows tremendous upside and long term potential.
Scout HoopsYesterday at 8:26 AM