By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – The biggest problem with the national perception of SEC basketball, Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy says, is SEC football.
The Rebels are among a handful of SEC teams hopeful of playing their way into the NCAA tournament.
The SEC’s national reputation isn’t helping its members’ profile, and Kennedy says that’s unfair.
“I just think it’s an easy company line, and I do think there is a bias in the national media. They get tired of talking about the SEC because it dominates in football. They just get tired of talking about it, so when there’s an opportunity to talk about something else, that’s what they’re going to do,” said Kennedy, who went on to use Kentucky as an example of the nation’s perception of the league.
Kentucky was ranked No. 11 when it lost 87-82 at LSU on Jan. 28. Four days later the Wildcats won 84-79 at Missouri – a top 50 RPI road win – but they still dropped seven spots when this week’s AP Top 25 poll was released on Monday.
“It’s crazy, the mindset,” Kennedy says.
The mindset won’t carry over into meetings of the tournament selection committee, and SEC teams will be judged on their merit, not polls and other external factors, Kennedy says.
“We all deal with human nature, but the numbers are going to say what the numbers are going to say, and the numbers on that piece of paper have got to make sense. If they make sense then our league will be properly represented.”
Ole Miss (15-7, 6-3 SEC) has a chance to strengthen its resume at home Saturday afternoon at 4 against Missouri (16-6, 4-5).
The Rebels currently sport a an RPI ranking of 55. Missouri, on the strength of non-conference wins against West Virginia, UCLA and North Carolina State – the latter on the road – has an RPI of 45.
Ole Miss is 0-4 against RPI top 50 teams.
Kennedy said he liked what he saw for periods of time in the Rebels’ 80-64 loss at Kentucky Tuesday night.
Ole Miss, though, was not able to sustain a high level of play for 40 minutes.
Kentucky shot 42.3 percent in the first half when the Rebels led for a stretch of time before falling behind 35-34 at the break. The Wildcats shot 60 percent in the second half. They held Ole Miss to 35.7 shooting then and 38.5 for the game.
There was better ball-movement and spacing for Ole Miss in the first half, Kennedy said.
“I thought we got real stagnant in the second half, and we got into trying to go make a play without moving the defense, and their size ate us up.”