By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
If Ole Miss is to make a third trip to the NIT semifinals in New York, it will need some success on the other coast first.
After after the dust settled on the NCAA tournament selections Sunday, the Rebels were informed they will be a No. 5 seed in the NIT and will face No. 4 seed California in the first round. The game will tip at 8 p.m., and will be televised on ESPN2.
“This team deserves to have the opportunity to continue to play,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “One hundred out of 347 (teams) get that opportunity. I’m sure our guys will be excited about it.”
It is the fourth time in five seasons that Ole Miss will play in the NIT, but the Rebels are seeded lower than they’ve been at any time in that span.
Each other time, Ole Miss has had at least one NIT home game. The Rebels reached the NIT Final Four in New York last year and in 2008.
A win at Cal would likely leave the Rebels traveling west again, though not as far, stopping at bracket No. 1 seed Colorado. The Buffaloes open with No. 8 seed Texas Southern.
Ole Miss has never lost an NIT home game under Andy Kennedy. They lost at Clemson in the second round in 2007.
The Rebels (20-13) have not reached the NCAA tournament since 2002. In October they were predicted to finish second in the West and had the opportunity to play their way into big tournament with a strength of schedule currently rated at 73.
“Making the NCAA tournament was our first goal,” senior guard Zach Graham said.
The door closed on that goal Friday in the SEC quarterfinals Kentucky defeated Ole Miss 75-66.
Graham believes the Rebels will be motivated to play in the NIT.
“I feel like, as long as we got games on the schedule left … we came here to play basketball,” he said. “I’m going to be ready to play, and I feel like my team will be ready to play.”
Ole Miss has never faced Cal in basketball.
The Golden Bears are 17-14 against a schedule rated No. 27. They went 10-8 and finished fifth in the Pac-10.
Six-foot-eight forward Harper Kamp and 6-3 guard Jorge Gutierrez share the team scoring lead with 14.3 points a game.
Cal won the NIT in 1999.
The postseason opportunity represents one more chance for senior guard Chris Warren to reach 2,000 points for his career. He’s two points away. One bucket will allow him to join LSU’s Pete Maravich, Tennessee’s Allan Houston and Georgia’s Litterial Green as only the fourth player in SEC history to amass 2,000 points and 400 assists for a career.
Like Graham, Warren believes the Rebels will get up for the NIT.
“Once you’re in the game, people don’t want to lose, don’t like to lose. I think we’ll play to win.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.