Looking for Progress; Hoping for Wins

You can almost see it from week to week now, game to game, day to day as it takes its toll on those involved.

The season, that is. A season like no other anybody around these parts can recall.

Tuesday night at Tad Smith Coliseum was supposed to be the highlight of the basketball year so far. ESPN is going to be here. It's a Super Tuesday national telecast at 6 p.m. The opponent? College basketball's winningest D-I program ever.

What an opportunity. Who could ask for anything more, right?

It all looked so thrilling when the schedule came out. One of the best from the SEC East against potentially one of the best in the West. Probably some big stakes involved. Not as many are talking about it now.

But let's be honest. Nobody could have predicted a season that through 19 games would have three of Ole Miss' key players done and a couple of others hobbling, one of them possibly making it four who can't play Tuesday night. Nobody's sure about Terrico White. Maybe he will play. Maybe he won't.

With each passing injury now, it has become an "Are you kidding me?" moment.

They'll try to get the talented freshman from Memphis game-ready as best they can, if that's possible given his bruised knee. My unfortunate guess is the Rebels are down to eight scholarship players available for this one.

Terrico was just coming into his own at the point, too, getting settled in and feeling better about things. Then we saw that moment against USC. And we collectively said something akin to, "Are you kidding me?"

So is it, in a twisted sort of way, appropriate or symbolic that the 100-year celebration season of Ole Miss men's basketball has turned into such a situation because of injury after unfortunate injury?

Nobody, no team, nowhere deserves a season like this. In fact, after a century with only a handful of seasons of seriously contending hoops, Ole Miss actually deserves just the opposite. You know, a special season. A memorable one.

This one will likely be called memorable.

But it's come down to this, at least for Tuesday night. ESPN and the national stage. Big Blue against Red Alert. Severely depleted Ole Miss against hot-as-blue-blazes Kentucky.

It's still January. There's a long way to go. Surely there won't be any other situations, no more injuries to add to the list of walking, and in some cases not-walking, wounded. Surely those days are behind them. Surely.

They'll fight on. They have all year. It's what competitors like this team and this coaching staff do.

It hasn't been easy and won't get easier. After Kentucky it's on to State where, with an open week between winning at Georgia and hosting the Rebs on Saturday at 12 noon, they have to be licking their chops at the scenario that's unfolded in 2008-09.

You know they'll show no mercy. And I'm not talking about players and coaches.

In the words of Myra Fleener to Norman Dale, warning him not to attend the impending town hall meeting for a vote on his coaching future in Hickory, "It won't be pleasant."

In Hoosiers, the fabled team beat the odds and won it all. At this stage, this Ole Miss team would take a dose of anything that's good and likely appreciate it.

Because if it hadn't already, it's begun to take a toll. And realistically how could it not?

Difficult as it is for some, it will be important that a large contingent of their fans stick with them. There are six SEC games left at home. Winning would be nice. Progress is the hope. And maybe that will result in some victories.

"We've done a lot of talking to this group about how they are supposed to approach just the next day," said Andy Kennedy. "We came into this season trying to raise our standard of what we as a group were going to accept. I don't want us to lower that standard. Obviously we've been dealt some adversity.

"We said at the beginning of the SEC season, we were 0-0, and we want to be the most improved team in the SEC," he continued after being asked what is realistic at this stage for this team. "How that reflects in the numbers I'm not sure. Does it mean you have to win X number of games in order to be successful? I don't think so. I think it comes down to improvement. Are these guys getting better? That's where I want them to focus."

And if they can win some games, then they'll take that, too. This season, the way it continues to unfold, that just may have to do.

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