By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
NASHVILLE – The term “Selection Sunday” took on a whole new meaning for Ole Miss this year.
After winning the school’s second SEC tournament championship on Sunday afternoon, the Rebels were able to relax and enjoy one of college basketball’s most anticipated hour-long TV programs, and they enjoyed it with a crowd of appreciative fans back home at Tad Smith Coliseum.
It was near the end of the program as the fourth and final region was revealed that Ole Miss learned it is a No. 12 seed and will play No. 5 seed Wisconsin at 11:40 a.m. in a West Region game on Friday in Kansas City.
“It was gratifying for these players who have put so much time and energy into this accomplishment, and it was great to see the people there, sitting in Tad Smith Coliseum and see the name pop up,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “Then you understand you’ve reached your goal of getting to the NCAA tournament, so we can turn the page and focus on the bigger picture.”
The Rebels last played in the NCAA tournament in 2002, and their streak of absences was the longest among SEC schools.
Kennedy was part of five NCAA tournament teams as an assistant coach, once at UAB and four times at Cincinnati.
He led Cincinnati to the NIT as an interim head coach and has coached the Rebels to the NIT five times.
NCAA committee chair Mike Bobinski said Ole Miss was in the field regardless of what happened in Sunday’s SEC tournament championship game, which the Rebels won 66-63 against No. 13 Florida.
“The Ole Miss game did have a little bit to do with seeding, but Ole Miss was going to get in the field win or lose,” he said.
Bobinski cited the Rebels’ sweep of Tennessee as a factor in their favor.
Kennedy said he never sensed panic in his team, even when losses to struggling SEC opponents inflicted damage on the Rebels’ NCAA resume.
“What we preach every day is that if you don’t get too high or too low success will find you,” he said. “That’s what this team epitomized.”