One More Step

Sorry, Kansas. Been right where you were Saturday afternoon, except in another building. But the same city.

Back 12 years ago, the Jayhawks were also playing in Oklahoma City when Ole Miss lost to Valparaiso. Those first and second rounds were played in the old Oklahoma City Arena, replaced now by the Ford Center, and the home of the NBA's Thunder.

I keep thinking Bryce Drew's shot in 1998 will finally be replaced after so many games and dramatic moments in the NCAA Tournament. Then again, maybe it's good pub to keep the name Ole Miss out there. Just so they'll know the Rebels were in the NCAA Tournament a time or two. Actually it's been six.

So as soon as Kansas lost to Northern Iowa Saturday, the affiliates here moved on to the last few moments of Baylor's win against Old Dominion. The Bears are Scott Drew's team. TV cameras panned and showed his brother Bryce in the stands. It never ends.

I was visiting some friends in Indianapolis at Christmas in '98, which would have been nine months after "the shot." A local affiliate had a segment on its nightly sportscast about an Indiana basketball family. The Drews, of course. It never ends.

Come Tuesday night in the lesser of the two tournaments, the NIT, the Rebels work their way toward Madison Square Garden again. Another Indiana kid, Pat Knight, son of Bob, will bring his Red Raiders to Oxford for a 6 p.m. tip. Here's hoping the atmosphere and enthusiasm for basketball from Friday night against Memphis is matched when Texas Tech arrives.

It's all up to Ole Miss fans. There won't be many from West Texas who will make the trip. There probably aren't many Red Raider fans within two or three hours of Oxford.

If there's one thing Ole Miss historically does well in men's basketball, it's win NIT home games. The record is 10-1 now, the lone loss in 1982 to Virginia Tech.

It's been a tough sell getting Ole Miss fans re-energized about basketball. Since the great run of postseason play from 1997-2002 abruptly ended, the NIT three of the last four years is all that's been offered. A week ago it was a sickening feeling for most knowing the Rebels were returning to the three-letter tourney and missing out for the eighth straight time on the four-letter event.

But you've gotta admit that was a pretty special early evening game in Tad Smith when Memphis was run out of town in a sport Tiger faithful believe they own in these parts.

Players and coaches always talk about the hand they've been dealt. Ole Miss and Texas Tech are two of eight NIT teams that appear to be making the most of things.

The Red Raiders beat Seton Hall and Jacksonville (of Florida, not Alabama) to get to Oxford. Saturday afternoon in 15,000-seat United Spirit Arena in Lubbock, the Red Raiders and the Dolphins drew an announced crowd of 5,465. Tech brings a 19-15 record to the contest against Ole Miss.

Like the last Cotton Bowl at Cotton Bowl Stadium and the first one at new Cowboys Stadium, could the Rebels be a step away from being among the last Final Four of the NIT? It appears there's some talk out there that the NCAA Tournament might be expanded to 96 teams, and it could happen as early as next season.

If so, the Rebels could be one of four teams to close out the historic tourney that was once more prestigious than the NCAA Tournament.

Not any longer, of course.

But last Friday night and likely this Tuesday night prove the NIT can be fun - if you'll approach it that way.

That goes for coaches, players, and fans.

A season that rocked along mostly in mediocrity, especially at home, could turn into quite a memorable one if the Rebels can get past the Red Raiders.

If that proves to be true, shaking off the disappointment of four SEC home losses will be an easier task than forgetting about the family Drew.


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