Kennedy says Rebels ready to play again

On Selection Sunday 2007, Ole Miss got a bid. It was the NIT, not the NCAA. But Andy Kennedy said the fact that his team will play again is what's important.

"It wasn't a surprise after we got defeated by Florida (Saturday in Atlanta in the SEC tourney semi-finals)," he said of his team receiving a bid to the National Invitation Tournament. "The reality was that we were probably not going to be an at-large NCAA Tournament selection. Nobody on this team has experienced postseason play. This team has accomplished a lot. To be rewarded by going to postseason will excite this team. We just found out. We haven't talked about it yet. Our kids were disappointed we weren't able to advance further in the SEC Tournament. I'm sure they will be excited about the next opportunity."

Kennedy, whose first Ole Miss team is 20-12, said the NIT should be an even better product now that it is a part of the NCAA.

"The NCAA has taken control and it is completely different," he said. "The teams that hosted used to be the teams that drew the biggest crowds. There will be much more legitimacy to the NIT now and rightfully so. There are 336 Division I basketball teams. There are 87 of those who get to play in the postseason, and that's 29 percent. Compare that with football where you have 119 teams in Division I-A and 32 bowls which means 64 teams play, that's 54 percent. So obviously for us to have a chance to play in postseason and to be in a tournament and to reward our kids for a job well done is something I'm looking forward to."

Kennedy said he hasn't really had enough time to decipher that the Rebels are the four seed in their bracket of the NIT and what that means.

"I don't really understand the seeding, and really it makes no difference to us," he said. "We're happy to be playing at home, because our fans have been so tremendous. And it gives our players the chance to play in front of the home crowd. We'll just take them as they come."

Kennedy said there are a lot of good teams that are not playing anymore this season.

"I don't see UConn, LSU, Auburn, California, Oklahoma, Washington," he said of teams not even in the NIT. "There are a lot of quality teams that are not having this opportunity."

Kennedy said he continues to feel that his team was one game short of making the NCAA Tournament. He says the Rebels had ample opportunities to pick up another win.

"We're one win short, I think, of buying a vowel for the NCAA Tournament," he said. "It's easy to say it was the Florida game, but it could have been the UConn game or the Memphis game or the Saint Louis game or Kentucky at home. Or this game or that game. It's a razor-thin difference between being in the NIT and the NCAA. We won the (SEC) West, won 20 games, had 15 home wins. Now we get a chance to get 16 home wins which will be an Ole Miss record. This group and these seniors have a lot to be proud of. Hopefully we'll be ready for the next challenge."

He knows Appalachian State, 25-7 and the five seed, will present a big test for his team.

"We haven't had a chance to see them yet," he said. "We'll scurry around and try to find some tapes of them, and I'm sure they're doing the same things. It's a pretty quick turn. I know they beat Vanderbilt and Virginia. Their kids will be excited about the NIT, and ours will be as well."

Kennedy said going to either the NCAA or the NIT is something to be proud of.

"In this day and age with so many teams in our sport and so few spots, we'll take this as a great opportunity for us to continue on this journey," said Kennedy, who led Cincinnati to the NIT last season as interim head coach of the Bearcats. "I know our kids don't want to stop playing. I don't want to stop playing. Hopefully our fans will come out and support us and rally behind this team again. When we look back years from now, we'll reflect on this team as the one that changed the culture (of basketball at Ole Miss), which was our No. 1 goal."

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