PARRISH ALFORD: Rebels have real chance to reach the Big Dance

By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – The Ole Miss Rebels go to Nashville later this week with the chance to do something they’ve not done in quite some time, and that’s make the NCAA tournament.
No one really knows what exactly the Rebels need to do in the SEC tournament to achieve their first NCAA bid since 2002. Once the selection committee withdraws from society over the weekend, it will consider many teams and many different factors from those teams.
Hopefully for Ole Miss, doing enough will require only a win against Tennessee in Friday’s quarterfinals. That’s more doable, I think, than beating Kentucky in the potential semifinal matchup on Saturday.
The Rebels need Tennessee to avoid an upset loss to LSU in Thursday’s opening round, because they need to beat another quality RPI opponent, something LSU could not offer.
Beating Tennessee is doable. With a double-figure lead deep into the second half in Knoxville, it almost happened in January, and had the Rebels closed successfully, they likely would not be on the bubble now.
The bubble is where Ole Miss begins the SEC tournament.
To keep it from popping they need all hands on deck against Tennessee, but the status of suspended guard Eniel Polynice remains unclear.
Conduct detrimental to the team, said the news release, timed 30 minutes before Saturday’s tip at Arkansas. Usually, that doesn’t mean knocking over a liquor store.
In the case of Polynice – who says the knee injury that caused him to sit out last season has not been a bother — it’s more likely about an attitude coaches perceive to be less than ideal.
Often, the root of internal conflict is playing time. It’s worth noting here that Polynice played an SEC-low 17 minutes in last Thursday’s 72-59 win over LSU. He still managed four turnovers, a pace that would have given him almost 10 for the game.
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy will shed some light on Polynice’s status for the SEC tournament later today. The Rebels need him, but read carefully the following disclaimer. The Rebels need a well-adjusted Polynice who more closely resembles the player he was two years ago when he averaged just 2.1 turnovers over 34 games.
They don’t need a primary ball-handler with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 11-to-16, which is what Polynice has in his last four games.
When he’s on top of his game, he brings an awful lot to the table.
The Rebels need an awful lot at the table to beat Tennessee, one of the league’s more athletic teams.
Ole Miss players received a shot of confidence by going to Arkansas and winning without Polynice.
It was a gritty performance led by Chris Warren’s 31 points. Terrico White and Murphy Holloway have seen their production increase of late as well.
In October these players, plus Polynice, carried so many hopes for the NCAA tournament this season.
Hope has not been abandoned, but hope needs the Rebels to put their best foot forward in Nashville.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@djournal.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily about Ole Miss athletics at NEMS360.com.