Set Stage

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy acknowledges it. His players will say as much, too.

As the Rebels (21-9, 9-7 SEC) settled in at Bridgestone Arena here Thursday, there was no hiding the reality of their situation. At least one win is likely needed in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, and maybe more, if hopes of the NCAAs are to be realized.

But at least the stage is set. Eastern Division No. 3 seed Tennessee (24-7, 11-5) took care of LSU, 59-49, earlier in the day. Ole Miss, the No. 2 seed from the West, awaited the winner.

When the teams meet Friday at 2:15 p.m., there is sure to be a sense of familiarity. The Volunteers, in overtime, were the benefactor in one of a handful of Ole Miss second-half collapses with a 71-69 final in mid-January.

"They have much more depth," Kennedy said of the difference between Tennessee then and now. "There's Melvin Goins, Cam Tatum and then Brian Williams gives them a huge body inside. They're playing him and Wayne Chism a lot together and that's one of the reasons LSU opted to go to zone. Physically, up front (LSU) had a hard time matching up."

Chism ranks second on the team in points with 12.4 per game. He also manages a team-high 6.8 rebounds.

And not to be forgotten, he gave Ole Miss fits in Knoxville. His 26 points were a game-high, and he was also a perfect 10-10 from the charity stripe.

"Well, we can't let him do what he did last time," Kennedy said. "He's their all-league guy, their leader, and he's been doing this for a long time. We've just got to make sure we always keep a body on him and we're always aware of where he is. He's not a volume 3-point shooter, but he's a big shot maker."

Kennedy won't get caught up in bracketology. As he makes well aware, a lot can happen over the final weeks of a given season to change the postseason landscape.

Take today, for example. Conference USA Tournament results were good for Ole Miss, with Memphis, one of the "Last Four In" according to ESPN's Joe Lunardi, dropping a close game to Houston in the first round. Fellow bubble team UAB was handled easily by Southern Miss.

The dominos are falling and the stage is set. Basically, for the sake of repetition, Ole Miss needs another win. An eight-season March Madness absence is ready to be snapped.

"You can't help it when you're watching television," Kennedy said of the team's NCAA chances with each meaningful loss. "You've got that scroll so you see scores the whole time. For us, we wish we weren't in a position where we felt like our backs are against the wall. But we're still in position to control our own destiny. And as a coach in March, I don't know if you can ask for much more."

Ole Miss won't be as short-handed Friday, either.

In the regular season finale at Arkansas, the Rebels overcame an 11-point deficit in a span of five minutes to win, 68-66. On hand were nine scholarship players. Kevin Cantinol left the team in December. DeAngelo Riley was suspended indefinitely for academic issues.

Eniel Polynice was a no-show, as well. He was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team.

Fast-forward a week later and Polynice appears poised for a return in the Music City. Kennedy was vague on the junior guard's availability vs. Tennessee, but he'll be dressed and ready if called upon.

"We'll see," said Kennedy of whether or not Polynice would play. "He's going to be dressed and ready to roll and we'll see how the game unfolds."

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