Ole Miss-Vandy: Last home game of the season

Ole Miss' Londrick Nolen is the Rebels' lone senior on Senior Night 2006.

Some fans want Ole Miss to beat Vanderbilt tonight and are focused on that. Others, though it seems, only want to know if it's Rod's last stand, win or lose.

Eight years of basketball games, at least the ones at home, come to a close tonight for the former Rebel player turned assistant turned head coach. Will there be a ninth for Rod Barnes as head coach at Ole Miss? That is the question.

I had no doubt there would be a ninth at the beginning of this season. No doubt three games into the Southeastern Conference season when the Rebels ripped to a 3-0 league start out of the blocks.

Ten losses in 11 games now, and I'm not as sure about that ninth season. I don't think anybody is.

So will tonight's game against Vandy or the one at LSU Saturday or next week's SEC Tournament in Nashville make a difference in any decision made on Rod's future? It's the same question we've been asking for the past few weeks.

Will a win at Auburn help turn things around, we asked ourselves a few weeks ago? Loss.

Will a win at Mississippi State help the cause, we asked? Loss.

Do the Rebels, we wondered back then, need to help themselves by winning their four remaining home games against Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, and now Vandy? They're 1-2 in those four so far.

Little has gone right for the Rebels lately. While some teams in the league have improved over the course of the season, the Rebels don't appear to have done so. Look no further than the scoreboard and the record – from 3-0 to 4-10 – and it's obvious.

There have been some challenges for them that they shouldn't have had to deal with, namely Dwayne Curtis and the situation surrounding his brother's death. It affected the team's leading scorer and rebounder for several weeks, there's no question about that.

Tonight the Rebels won't have an easy challenge. With what appears to be the distractions going on around the program and its future here, a Vanderbilt team with an NCAA Tournament bid on its mind is in town.

The Commodores are 15-10 overall and 6-8 in the SEC. Obviously they need a win tonight and also a win at home against Tennessee Saturday to further their cause. So expect a Vandy team playing for its NCAA life to play that way tonight.

Ole Miss? They'll play hard for Rod and for lone senior Londrick Nolen. But they've played hard most of the time. It's been late-game execution that's been their downfall in most cases, at least in the ones that were winnable, like the two Auburn games.

So the team and coaches do what they can do, and that's try to win another game against an SEC foe at home.

"They're a difficult team to play because of the complex offense they run," Barnes said of Vandy. "The way they play, with the Princeton offense, is different than anyone else in our league. With the way we've been scoring and playing lately, we need to be working on our offemse more. But we have to put in the work to prepare for them. Their offense is unique and hard to prepare for. We've got to be focused defensively in this game in the halfcourt set."

One win in either of their last two games will assure Ole Miss of a winning regular season. Since Saturday's game is at LSU, the possibility of winning is greater tonight than in Baton Rouge.

"It's important to have a winning season," Barnes said. "It's been one of our team goals. We want that. I think sometimes our guys are pressing to make that happen."

But on this night with Nolen as the focal point as the lone senior player, most can't help wonder if it might be the last night at home for the program as well.

Barnes said he can't be focused on that.

"I don't have any answers or comments as far as the job situation," he said. "We play and I'm focusing and I've got our kids focusing on that. It's tough. It's tough when we lose. I don't take losing any better now than when we won 27 games. I've tried the best I possibly could over my career to really focus on the next game. As far as the job situation, I'd rather not deal with that right now."

So they try to win again, on Senior Night, against a team also fighting for something, namely an NCAA bid. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. at C.M. "Tad" Smith Coliseum.

On the message board front page are Ole Miss athletics media relations game notes from Kyle Campbell.

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