Georgia on their minds - again

The Ole Miss Rebels have to win games in Atlanta later this week in the Southeastern Conference Tournament to make the NCAA Tournament field. Their resume' is not yet complete nor good enough.

But they still have a shot. In actuality, all 12 league teams do, considering the champion gets an automatic bid into the NCAA tourney. So there's one route.

Other than winning the whole event, most feel one win won't be enough for Ole Miss. It will take two, at least. But that's better than what many might have suggested only a couple of weeks ago.

Left for dead by some across the country, the Rebels have been building on the momentum from a solid second-half performance at Kentucky, where they outscored the Wildcats 40-27 and barely misfired on a game-winning shot.

Since then, they've beaten Alabama and Arkansas at home and Georgia on the road. Now they face the Bulldogs (13-16 overall, 4-12 SEC) again, a team the Rebs rolled past in Athens 76-62 Saturday. Andy Kennedy says there's more work to be done.

"We've got to go win games," said the second-year UM head coach, whose SEC West third-seeded Rebels (21-9, 7-9) play in Thursday's final contest.

Kennedy said some of the factors likely working against the Rebels in securing an at-large bid are basically out of their control.

"Name recognition and teams that they are more familiar with that have had success," he said may have a better shot, all other things being equal. "We've got to earn our way into that group."

They've tried. Last season they made a run with an SEC West title and 19 wins heading to Atlanta. A first-round bye along with one win over LSU later and all that was there on Selection Sunday was an NIT bid with just one home game as the reward.

This season there was the solid non-conference start, a perfect record of 14-0 in non-league games, and a national ranking as high as 15th. So there was progress in the name recognition area.

Yet some other teams with resumes' not quite as good as the Rebels and certainly with less wins are being considered as possible locks to get in. Kennedy knows that's the case but doesn't necessarily like it.

"We don't live in an ideal world, do we?" he said.

Since the SEC went to the current 16-game league format in 1991-92, only two teams have gotten into the NCAA Tournament with a 7-9 conference mark – Alabama in 2003 and Arkansas last year.

In 2007, the SEC West third-place Razorbacks won three games in Atlanta and made the tourney finals before losing. In 2003, the SEC West fourth-place Crimson Tide lost to Vanderbilt by 13 points in round one of the SEC tourney and still got an invitation to the dance.

Looking back this season, Ole Miss' road loss at Auburn and home losses to Auburn and South Carolina were critical setbacks in the Rebels not already being "in" the NCAA Tournament. Had they won just two of those three, they would basically be a lock at 23-7 and 9-7.

But they aren't, and so they head to the Georgia Dome doing what they can about the situation now. First of all that is to defeat Georgia for the second time in less than a week.

"We've got work to do," said Kennedy, 42-22 at Ole Miss. "We put ourselves in this position. We have to go win games. Does that mean we have to win one or two or three? I don't know. I don't think anybody knows. A lot of it has to do with what else happens. We have an opportunity, and at this point that is all you can ask."

Kennedy admits to checking things out daily as to where the Rebels might fit into the picture. It isn't easy to sort out.

"I don't have any hobbies. I'm a sports guy," he said. "I watch a lot of tape in preparation as much as any coach. When I'm not, I'm watching basketball. I watch whoever's on. I enjoy it and learn from it. But as far as we're concerned, all I know is that we've got work to do."

Kennedy said he enjoys allowing his team to be a part of the process of learning where they might fit in. He encourages them to know where they stand and what they might need to do in situations.

"I try to give them that," he said. "A lot of coaches act like they don't watch it or don't read the papers. I mean, come on. They say they don't talk to their team about it. Well, it's out there. You cannot escape it. It's my job to put some perspective to it. Obviously it's my perspective. But I do try to give them a little bit of balance."

That balance, that perspective, right now means beating Georgia more than anything else.

"If we go over there and we don't win our first game, we have no chance," Kennedy said.

But if they do??? Then Kentucky matters again. And this time maybe the Rebels will be able to put two good halves together against the Wildcats to advance.


OM Spirit Top Stories