On Men's Hoops, and Matt Smith

I'm sure there will be a near-capacity crowd for Ole Miss-Arkansas Tuesday night. It will send the wrong message to the nation via ESPN if there are as many empty seats as Saturday against Alabama.

On some level, this really is about making a statement. Certainly the weather is a factor. Predictions have the possibility of some nasty stuff Tuesday, but it doesn't look as bad as first thought. Looks like a high of around 40, and even baseball vs. USM is still on, although moved to 3 p.m.

Ole Miss and Arkansas play the second portion of Super Tuesday on ESPN at 8 p.m. It will be a chance for the country's sports fans to again see what Ole Miss is all about, especially in hoops.

There weren't many students there Saturday. I've gotta believe there will be a larger crowd of them for this one. Only once a hoops season or so is the stage this big at Ole Miss.

With a win, the Rebels will have 20. In reality 22 is probably the new 20 since most teams play 30 regular season games now. Still a 20-win season will only be the ninth in UM men's hoops history. And the Rebels need to win their last home game to have any shot at the NCAA Tournament.

Unless of course they go to Atlanta and win the SEC tourney. Tall order, since that will mean winning four straight there.

The best scenario is a win Tuesday night here, a win at the SEC East's last-place team Georgia on Saturday, and three wins in Atlanta, reaching the finals. That should do it.

Some think a win Tuesday night, a win Saturday in Athens, and then two wins in Atlanta is enough. If that happens, I think we'd be looking more into the RPI situation and what's going around the country with some other bubble teams.

But for now it's all about Arkansas, the second-place SEC West team. It's a shot at win No. 20, an opportunity to show the nation hoops matters at Ole Miss, and the next step to whatever postseason reward awaits Andy Kennedy's second Rebel team.

Ole Miss has some big opportunities Tuesday night, the kind fans often wish for, and once again they're here.

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In rehashing the Rebels' dramatic 6-5 Sunday win over Indiana State, I've talked to a handful of people who've watched a lot of baseball here, and we all agree on one thing. You would be hard pressed to find a better one-game performance for Ole Miss baseball than the one Matt Smith had Sunday.

There've been dramatic moments from players, at the plate, on the mound, terrific game-saving catches, comebacks of monumental proportions.

But to do what Matt, just named the SEC Freshman of the Week, did Sunday given all the circumstances is one game by one guy that you won't forget.

In the season opener he left the mound in pain. He waited three days to find out how bad it was. He found out he had a torn UCL in his throwing arm. He had some decisions to make. He had redshirted last season. He had already begun rehab work by Monday.

He continued that throughout the week. There was some thought it might be three to six weeks before he could play. Tough kid, Matt Smith.

He played first base Friday night and went 2-for-5. After a 2-for-2 day on Saturday with two RBI, he then had one of the greatest individual games in Oxford-University Stadium history on Sunday.

A 5-for-6 day with four RBI. A two-out single which scored two runs to tie the game 5-5 in the bottom of the ninth. A first-pitch walkoff to win it for his Rebels in the 11th.

For the weekend the 6-foot-3, 208-pounder went 9-for-13 at the plate, hit .692 with three home runs, four runs scored, a 1.462 slugging percentage with six RBI.

Unreal on its own. And then throw in the injury situation? Amazing.

It's already been a season to remember for the redshirt freshman, and we're just getting started. Certainly now we know why the coaches were so glad to get the news last week that he could play.

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