Down the Stretch They Come

Having dropped a should-be win in Baton Rouge, Ole Miss heads home for a critical two game stretch. Read about it inside.

The struggles of 2008-09 have been discussed ad nauseam, so forgive me as I bypass the different hurdles bringing Ole Miss to this point.

In all honesty, the trials of this season are pretty simple to explain. We all know the injuries and other factors involved, but 24 games in, it's all really a moot point.

The Rebels are back in Oxford following a heartbreaking affair at LSU. Considering the outcome, it's reasonable to assume these guys aren't too happy with where they stand.

"We had a chance," said head coach Andy Kennedy after Ole Miss let one slip away. "(LSU) stepped up at the end with their upperclassmen. I told our guys in the locker room, when you shoot 38 percent in the second half, you're not going to beat the best team in our conference."

A 19-4 run over the final nine minutes ended their hopes of another impressive road win – against, arguably, the best team in the conference. They're 13-11 overall, and two games under .500 in conference play.

Shoulda, coulda, woulda, they lost. No reason why changes that fact.

But paint me optimistic when considering the next two games at home. The Rebels' backs are against the wall yet again, with Wednesday's matchup against Tennessee as close to a must-win as any played so far.

A loss to the Volunteers might not doom Ole Miss' chances for postseason play, but it would certainly make the task that much harder; daunting even. Georgia's no push over either, having taken down Florida over the weekend.

These two games are critical. Considering how far these youngsters have had to come just to get here makes their present circumstances seem all the more fitting.

In this writer's point of view, they'll have to win all their remaining home games, grab one of two on the road, and at least one in Tampa, to even be in the discussion for the NCAA Tournament.

Heck, those prospects still might not get it done.

The NIT is more reasonable, so we should begin and end the debate there. Still, they need to win more than they lose the rest of the way and probably take one or two in the SEC Tournament. To me, 18 wins means you're a lock. Anything less and we're probably talking of next season.

Frankly, I have to applaud the coaching staff and the players (who've survived) for even the possibility of either.

We're at the crossroads of this season. No matter what happens this week, this team made basketball interesting when all seemed lost just a few months earlier.

However, I'm like the rest of you. I want these guys to be rewarded for the work they've put in and hope their sacrifices pay off with some form of postseason life.

Terrico White has continued to impress, despite showing signs of fatigue late against the Tigers. Zach Graham is playing (brilliantly, I might add) on a partially torn patella tendon, while drawing the toughest matchup each night.

I could go on and on of each player's worth, but the reality is, this team deserves a break.

Maybe I'm selfish, but no team deserves the hand Ole Miss has been dealt, and this team has weathered the proverbial storm.

We all need to pack Tad Smith and root them on while they head down this final stretch. The Rebels have a chance to rectify all the hardships that have shadowed this season and play on in March.

But it starts Wednesday.

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