As the West's No. 5 seed in Tampa, Ole Miss has a tough row to hoe to achieve its first SEC Tournament Championship since 1981.
In the Rebel half of the bracket are No. 1 overall seed LSU, East No. 2 South Carolina, as well as in-state rival Mississippi State. In the regular season, the Rebels defeated only one of those foes – a 67-63 victory over the Bulldogs in Starkville.
But Andy Kennedy refuses to peer into the near future. Considering his team draws Kentucky (winners of an NCAA-most 1,985 games) in the first round, you really can't blame him.
"They're a very dangerous team," Kennedy said. "If I had to handicap it, I would have to say Kentucky is very capable of putting it together over a four-day period. They have strong interior players, some strong leadership and they've got a guy who's capable of going for 30 on any night. That's a good formula."
In the history of Rebel basketball, no team has been able to claim two victories over the Wildcats in one season. That's 100 years of Ole Miss hoops for those keeping score at home.
With that in mind, Kennedy sees Thursday's meeting as a special opportunity.
"For me, I have so much respect for the passion, lineage and history of Kentucky," said Kennedy. "When you see Kentucky, it's a special opportunity. We celebrated 100 years of Rebel basketball earlier this season, and not once in our history has a team beaten Kentucky twice in a year. It's never happened. That's shocking."
Equally shocking is Ole Miss has failed to beat Kentucky in 13 attempts in the conference tournament.
Overall, the Wildcats hold a 95-12 series advantage over Ole Miss, but the Rebels did snap a nine-game losing streak to UK with an 85-80 win during the early conference season.
Despite it all, however, Kennedy said there's no fear factor in this group of Rebels.
"I don't know if our kids understand (Kentucky's history)," Kennedy said. "They still respect Kentucky. I'm not sure kids these days fear anybody. We're in a different world. It's here today, gone tomorrow. I'm not sure that fear will ever come back. But people have a very strong respect for Kentucky. I don't see that wavering at any time."
Kentucky enters the tournament tied with Vanderbilt for fourth place in the SEC East with an 8-8 league record. The Wildcats earned the No. 4 seed in the division by virtue of a better divisional record than the Commodores.
While they may be limping into Tampa as losers of four-straight, sophomore Zach Graham still believes Big Blue presents a sizeable challenge.
"Kentucky's a well-respected team," he said. "We've been practicing and preparing all week for them, so hopefully we can get a win."
Although All-SEC First Teamers Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson receive the bulk of outside attention, SEC Freshman of the Year Terrico White said the Wildcats offer a lineup with many dangerous weapons.
"They've got some other players that can really step up," he said. "(Michael) Porter can step up and make shots. Their whole team can step up at any time."
The SEC Tournament is being hosted in the state of Florida for just the second time ever. It was last hosted here in 1990 in Orlando. That year Ole Miss made a finals appearance, dropping the championship game to Alabama after wins over Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
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