Commentary

Ole Miss men's basketball has spiraled downward, losing eight of its last nine games after a 3-0 start to the Southeastern Conference season. Where do things stand now and where do they go from here? There are other questions and likely some answers in the days ahead.

It was bad. No other way to slice it or dice it - or spin it, as some say.

That was a 39-point turnaround in five weeks for Ole Miss men's basketball - from a 10-point win over Mississippi State in Oxford to a 29-point loss in Starkville.

Of course we know there were circumstances surrounding this one. The loss of Dwayne Curtis' brother affected such a close-knit team. They all hurt when one hurts.

Unfortunately a program that had gained some of its friends and supporters back prior to this season and also at 13-3 overall and 3-0 in the SEC in mid-January seems to have lost many of them again.

Men's basketball appeared to take many of the necessary steps to correct its eight straight losses to State and three consecutive losing seasons prior to this season.

The first streak was stopped earlier in the year, and there could still be a winning regular season if they beat either Auburn or Vanderbilt at home. I really don't see the Rebels going to Lexington or Baton Rouge and having much of a chance now. I'd like to think differently, but these last two recent road games - at Auburn and at Mississippi State, both with less SEC wins than the Rebels - make thinking otherwise difficult.

Let's say they do finish 15-14 or 16-13 on the season before heading to the SEC Tournament in Nashville. Does that take away the sting for most of our fans? Do they become more supportive again? I don't hear that.

Ole Miss men's basketball is at a low point today, and a few of us are still trying to see that light off through the distant tunnel and find something to cling to. That's because some of us thought we'd have made more progress by now with the new players that were brought in.

This isn't some obituary I'm writing here. It is simply a statement that one only has to have watched this season unfold, to have watched this team play games, and to have followed what happened Saturday in Starkville in a 29-point loss to know this wasn't the season most had predicted. Of course, some felt a fourth straight losing season was on the way no matter what.

A strong finish this season would be a surprise now. It's somewhat a mystery why this team hasn't bonded and meshed and found some sort of chemistry that would make it competitive game in and game out on the court. There seems to be that bond and chemistry among them off the court.

Some have called for the media to find out where this thing is headed, that they want to hear from the powers that be if what fans are seeing on the court is what was expected at this point in the rebuilding effort the program needed after the past three seasons. Some are more specific and are saying it's the Spirit's call - namely mine - to go find out how they feel about things at this point.

What are the feelings of the athletics director? Will he say anything? Prior to this season, was Rod assured of at least two years with this class of new players brought in? Was he told when Michael White and Tracy Dildy were brought on board as assistant coaches that they'd have three years (one more after this one) to help get the Rebels back in the NCAA Tournament where they haven't been since losing to UCLA in Pittsburgh in March, 2002? Or were they told any of that?

As I posted on the message board last week, I don't mind asking them those questions - the athletics director and the head men's basketball coach. Some say there's no need to stop there, that the Chancellor will need to be asked as well. That might be true. He is involved in all areas of the University and obviously that includes athletics.

At 14-11 overall and 4-8 in the SEC, the Rebels can still have a winning season, and that has been the first statement from head coach Rod Barnes many times this season, even recently, when talking about the team's goals. They can still win more games overall than they lose.

But repeat performances like most of the ones lately will make it tough to win more than a game or two.

Winning one of the next four games, however, does mean a winning regular season. Is that good enough?

Those in charge of the athletics department and the men's basketball program will tell us if it is or not. And that most likely won't be until after the last horn is sounded on the season.

But I will still ask before then and see what they say.

I can't assure you what their answers will be or if there will be any answers until the season concludes. "No comment" may be all I get.

These have been painful times for all concerned. Losing eight of nine games makes things that way. Not seeing as much progress as most would like, including the coaches and players involved, makes it doubly tough - triple tough when we like and care about them all, which is the case here.

So stay tuned and be patient just a little bit longer, and when I ask them and get any answers, you'll be the first to know.

Fair enough?

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