Keeping it in perspective, this one still big

Ole Miss hits the SEC road for the first time in 2007-08. Somehow we need to keep this game in perspective. After all, it's the first of 16.

That being said, if Ole Miss wins it, I'm ready to call it the Rebels' biggest win since beating Notre Dame in Kansas City in March 2001 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in San Antonio.

A loss won't be devastating since there are 15 more games ahead this regular conference season. A win and the Rebels are national headliners on Thursday and for who knows how long into the future.

Am I keeping Wednesday night's game in perspective? Doesn't sound like it, does it?

This week the Rebels moved into the top 15, at least in one of the major polls. The Volunteers are in the top 10 at No. 8 in one poll.

There'll be 22,000 in Thompson-Boling Arena. Many of the Rebels will never have played in front of a crowd like that, both in size and in volume. The Ole Miss staff tried to get the players to understand it a little better the past couple of days. Rocky Top could be heard coming out of the locker room before practice, over and over again. At practice, the P.A. pumped out some crowd noise so the Rebels could at least have some sense of what it will be like.

But they won't truly know until Wednesday night at tipoff and for two hours afterward.

How will Chris Warren perform under those conditions? How about David Huertas? Trevor Gaskins and Zach Graham? Malcolm White and Terrence Watson? Only Huertas, and his time in these type situations was limited, has ever been on a stage this big, and that was two years ago at Florida.

While I'm asking, how will Kenny and Jermey and Dwayne handle all this? They've really never been in this situation before either. Sure, they collectively have quite a bit of bigtime college basketball experience. But not in their college careers have they been in such a situation on the road that meant this much, not even at Mississippi State where the sheer nature of the rivalry takes the atmosphere to a different level.

Brian Smith and Eniel Polynice are two probable keys. Smith, the senior veteran, should be, as usual, a calm and collected role player when called upon Wednesday. The sophomore Polynice, through the league once before, needs to come out of the gates as he did against Alabama A&M a week ago and lift the Rebs early.

If "so far this season" is any indication, these 13-0 Rebels are ready. Tennessee's favored and rightfully so. They were the preseason pick to win the SEC. They're playing at home. They're battle-tested and won't be overlooking Ole Miss. Not with the Rebels being ranked, and not with the Vol players still there from last year recalling the waxing the Rebels gave them in Oxford last year to the tune of 83-69.

Two of the SEC's best coaches will face off in this one, too. Name me two better ones. OK, back to back national titles and you can throw in Billy Donovan. Anybody else? Not as far as I'm concerned.

Before practice on Monday, I'll tell you what I felt. I felt business as usual from these Rebels. I felt the confidence this team has built in itself through 13 games.

I saw a team and a coaching staff that came to work again, just as they have all season. To get better and to prepare for that next game, that "one game at a time" deal we always hear about.

It won't be easy to win this one. The SEC road never is. Ole Miss has lost eight straight in Knoxville. Not since Ed Murphy was head coach has a Rebel basketball team left Big Orange Country with a victory.

Even with Tennessee ranked as high as it is, it's been a while since I felt this confident that the Vols might just fall at their place. I guarantee you the Rebels and their coaches, while knowing it will be difficult, feel they can win.

Not keeping it much in perspective, am I?


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