And so it begins.
Over a seven-day, three-game homestand, Ole Miss' postseason picture is sure to become clearer. The Rebels, in a proverbial sprint toward a spot in the NCAA Tournament, sit 17-7 overall and 5-5 in SEC play.
For Ole Miss, it's crunch time. Seven games, including a first round matchup in the SEC Tournament, remain. From here on out, each game presents a chance to build the resume, if you will.
Ole Miss boasts a pair of impressive non-league wins, including an 86-74 final in Puerto Rico over current top-10 ranked Kansas State. The Wildcats claim a No. 7 RPI ranking. The other is a win over C-USA leader UTEP (No. 56 RPI), also on a neutral court.
Overall, Ole Miss is 6-6 against teams in the current RPI top 115.
But with those benchmark wins have come significant league losses. Among them, of course, are two home contests with Western Division leader Arkansas and second place Mississippi State.
In terms of the NCAA selection committee, Ole Miss needs a win over Vanderbilt Thursday. The Commodores trip to Oxford with a 19-5 record (8-2 SEC), and are second overall in the conference standings behind Kentucky.
Vanderbilt has made the NCAA Tournament three of the last six years.
"It's going to be a tremendous challenge, but one that we need," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said of the Commodores. "It's a game for a lot of reasons that we need. We've just got to go out and do the things I know we're capable of doing."
Bracketology abounds in the world of college basketball this time of year. Kennedy isn't blind to the murmurs.
"I tip my hat to CBS and ESPN and all the people that create this euphoric run," he said. "It gets people to watch and people to talk about it. But the reality is the selection is four weeks away."
The Rebels haven't appeared in the field of 64 since 2002, though they've come close on two occasions in Kennedy's first three years on campus. Anxiety grows with those ever-so-close misses. Ole Miss fans are eager.
Cliché, I know, but the ball is in the Rebels' court now. They control their own destiny. A 10-6 conference finish all but ensures a spot in March Madness. To get there, obviously, Ole Miss must win five of six the rest of the way.
Anything less....well, fate falls at the feet of uncontrollable forces.
"We moved from one side of the bubble to the other side of the bubble and didn't play," said Kennedy, whose team has had no games since last Thursday at Mississippi State. "It's a perfect example of you don't control all that. All we can control is winning games. I know as simple as that sounds, but that's what you try to get (your players) focused on."
Ole Miss is 3-6 against top-25 opponents over the last three seasons. Vanderbilt currently ranks No. 17 nationally.
What better opportunity than Thursday to give Kennedy his 100th career win?
"This is obviously a huge week for us," Kennedy said candidly. "We all know that."
Today's game will be the 110th meeting between Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, with the Commodores holding a 70-39 lead in the series. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. and will be broadcast via ESPNU.
"Four or five days off, it just adds more fuel to our fire," junior point guard Chris Warren said. "We're anxious to play another game and take our frustration from (Mississippi State) and put it on Vanderbilt."
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