As the Season Turns

Ole Miss has experienced highs and lows aplenty in 2009-10.

Seasons come and go. So do wins and losses.

Any sport is impossible to predict. Uncontrollable forces weigh in. A given team can suffer through injury. Those tend to derail a promising year, as Ole Miss fans are well aware. Team chemistry plays a part in levels of success, as well.

Talent alone only goes so far.

Ole Miss has experienced highs and lows aplenty in 2009-10. The Rebels raced out to a 16-4 overall record and 4-2 mark in Southeastern Conference play. However, goodwill soured quickly over a miserable 1-5 losing skid.

A long-awaited return trip to the NCAA Tournament, the first in eight seasons, appeared bleak at best. The Rebels couldn't keep their heads above water. The atmosphere surrounding Tad Smith Coliseum was awfully unsettling.

But Ole Miss (21-9, 9-7 SEC) reversed its fortunes by winning its final four games. A 66-68 win at Arkansas Saturday capped a flurry of memorable comebacks over the last two weeks. The Rebels trailed by significant margins against Auburn and at Alabama, too.

In reality, no one can truly know Ole Miss' NCAA Tournament chances. The odds rest in the hands of the selection committee, honestly.

What's apparent, though, is these Rebels have plenty of fight left.

Countless times, especially following crucial blows to Vanderbilt and Florida, they could have folded. It wouldn't have been surprising, either. Lesser teams pack it in with the cards stacked against them.

Not Ole Miss. Not this year.

No, this group has heart.

Eniel Polynice was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team before the trip to Fayetteville. Ole Miss had nine scholarship players to work with. DeAngelo Riley had already been suspended for academic issues. Kevin Cantinol left the team in December.

Even so, the Rebels responded. Chris Warren, his 31 points one shy of his career-high, led a rally from 11 points down in the game's final five minutes. The victory secured a No. 2 seed and the coveted first-round bye in this weeks' SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tenn.

It also clinched a share of the SEC Western Division crown.

Suffice to say, you can't write off this team. Uncontrollable factors are what they are – uncontrollable. What can be controlled, what Ole Miss is attempting to control, is its own destiny. And destiny can be had Friday.

The Rebels meet the winner of LSU and Tennessee. Assuming the Volunteers advance, Ole Miss has another opportunity at a quality win. Call it a resume builder, if you will.

One Ole Miss needs but, as the Rebels have proven over the last four games, is clearly capable of winning.

To be honest, that much was hard to say not so long ago. Few thought meaningful basketball was possible this late in the season with the way things had gone down the stretch. In fairness, this writer included.

Being wrong isn't always a bad thing.

Personally, I've given up predicting what happens next. Ole Miss is a bubble team… I guess. The Rebels may have already written their invitation to March Madness. They might require some help along the way. Another win may make the difference, like some "esteemed" bracketologists predict.

The Music City could be kind to Ole Miss. By the same token, it could be disappointing. But again, the debate has grown tiresome. Me? I'd rather enjoy the ride.

We might be in for some more magic yet.


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