By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Ole Miss couldn’t afford to ponder its NCAA tournament chances. First, the Rebels had to worry about getting a good seed for the SEC Tournament.
They’ve done just that and will open play in Nashville on Friday as the No. 3 seed. But it’s no secret Ole Miss (23-8, 12-6 SEC) needs some more wins to assure itself a spot in the Big Dance.
Jerry Palm, a bracket analyst for CBSSports.com, does not include Ole Miss in his latest mock bracket, listing them among his “first four out.” ESPN.com reporter Eamonn Brennan wrote that for the Rebels, “One win won’t get it done.”
But with a high SEC Tournament seed, Ole Miss is in good position to make a run and make a strong case for itself.
“With a couple of losses we put ourselves in harm’s way, and we realized that,” seventh-year head coach Andy Kennedy said. “We can still control our own destiny when there are opportunities. For us, that was the focus, to finish the season on the right note and get the top-four seed.”
After suffering a stunning setback at Mississippi State on March 2, the Rebels beat Alabama and LSU last week. So now they have a double-bye and will play either Missouri, Auburn or Texas A&M on Friday.
Mizzou, the No. 6 seed, plays the Auburn-A&M winner on Thursday.
Ole Miss is entering the SEC Tournament trying not to think about how much work it must do to earn an NCAA bid.
“We’re not even worrying about that,” guard Jarvis Summers said. “We’re just going to take one game at a time and just play hard.”
There isn’t nearly as much on the line for Mississippi State (9-21, 4-14), but finishing the season on a high note is important to this team. The Bulldogs have won two of their last three games and will open play in Nashville on Wednesday as the No. 13 seed versus No. 12 South Carolina.
MSU has dealt with offseason attrition, injuries and suspensions. Four players are currently on the bench with knee injuries, and only six scholarship players are available to play.
First-year coach Rick Ray is glad to see his young team finally get some payoff for sticking it out.
“I don’t know if you see it on the court, but our kids play hard, and they do it every day in practice. It’s to (the point of) exhaustion,” Ray said following Saturday’s 74-71 overtime win over Auburn.
“You want to see those guys go out and have some sort of success with how hard they play in practice and how hard they play in the games.”