For the Rebels, tonight is an opportunity to stop the bleeding and keep NCAA Tournament hopes on life support. Fans, conversely, are looking for a fantastic finish; one where Ole Miss wins its four remaining regular season games and makes some Music City magic come SEC Tournament time.
But the question is how much this team has left in the tank.
"Obviously, we're disappointed. Everybody's disappointed," Kennedy said of the season's downward slide. "The nature of this business is you have to move forward. It's my job. You have to move forward. I would love to be able to take back five or six possessions both vs. Vanderbilt and vs. Florida, and have a chance for a mulligan. But that's not the way it is. Wednesday gives us another opportunity."
Ole Miss, who opened league play with a 4-2 record, is 1-5 in its last six contests. The latest disappointments came in losses to Vanderbilt and Florida, despite holding a lead within the last six minutes of both games.
"The last two we're still trying to move forward from," Kennedy said matter-of-factly.
The Rebels (17-9, 5-7 SEC) have lost four games at home this season. It's a somewhat baffling statistic, considering they had lost only seven home games combined in Kennedy's three previous seasons.
However, none were more important than the last two. Ole Miss desperately needed wins over Vanderbilt and Florida, only to lose by slim margins. The average margin of defeat in the team's seven league losses is 5.6 points.
Now, even with wins in all of its upcoming games, Ole Miss' resumé isn't overly impressive. The Rebels hold quality wins over Kansas State and UTEP, but the SEC hasn't been kind.
"We try to just talk about where we are and keep focusing on the things we can control," said Kennedy. "I knew after the Florida game it was a very disappointed locker room. They understood the magnitude of the game, as they did against Vanderbilt. But again, not to give you coach speak, but there's not a lot we can do about that. The only thing that we can do is try to stop the bleeding, play better against Auburn and get back on the winning side."
A subscriber posed the question of what it would take for Ole Miss to still go dancing in March, and if a sweep in the final regular season games and two wins in the tournament would be enough.
Ole Miss would certainly be in the NCAA conversation. But the remaining schedule – Auburn, at Alabama, LSU, at Arkansas – contains no quality wins. Even worse, Ole Miss is only 6-8 against teams in the current RPI top 115.
However, if the Rebels were to meet, say, Vanderbilt and Tennessee in Nashville and get wins, they'll be right back to where they were before things fell apart – a bubble team left to the mercy of the NCAA selection committee.
Basically, as Kennedy often states, Ole Miss can only help itself by winning. Really, winning is all this team can control now.
"We're all frustrated, especially when you lose close games you feel you have an opportunity to win," Kennedy said. "The reality is there's nothing that we can do it about that. There is something we can do about Wednesday, and hopefully we'll take advantage of that."
Auburn rolls into Oxford with an overall record of 13-14 and are 4-8 in SEC contests. The Tigers beat SEC West leading Arkansas, 92-83, in their most recent action Saturday. Tay Waller, who Kennedy compares to former Rebel Clarence Sanders, notched 29 points in the win.
Waller is one of four Tigers averaging double figures, his 14.2 points per game second on the team. DeWayne Reed tops all scorers with 16 ppg.
"Tay Waller is playing lights out," said Kennedy. "He reminds me so much of Clarence Sanders, but a little bigger and more athletic. DeWayne Reed, you've got to continue to crack him. They're going to play fast, which hopefully will bode well for us. We'll see."
Tonight's matchup will be carried live on the SEC Network/ESPN Full Court.
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