By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – No one knows for certain what might strike a certain fancy with the NCAA tournament selection committee, but the feeling at Ole Miss is win two in Atlanta, and the Rebels are in.
“I think 23 is the magic number,” senior forward Dwayne Curtis said.
“It's two wins minimum,” said Curtis' frontcourt mate, senior Kenny Williams. “Our goal is to win the whole thing, but to keep playing after that, we have to win Thursday and Friday.”
The SEC Tournament begins Thursday, and the West No. 3-seeded Rebels will face East No. 6 Georgia in the late game, a scheduled 8:45 p.m. tip. The winner will face East No. 2 Kentucky.
Oddly enough, the Rebels (21-9, 7-9 SEC) may have more going for them this year than last when they went 8-8 in the league and shared the Western Division title.
That team sported a Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) ranking of 59 on Selection Sunday. This one has an RPI of 42.
“To be safe you need to be sub-40. If you're sub-45 it’s worth watching on Sunday,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said.
Kennedy is constantly watching. He watches Web sites and TV reports and tries his best to develop an awareness for the March Madness scene as it affects his team. Then he passes that information to his players.
There are other factors that could work in Ole Miss' favor, like six wins against Top 50 RPI teams.
Hardly a day goes by that Kennedy is not discussing RPI and “quality wins” with his players.
Plain (bracket) talk
“He lays it out on the board and explains it to us,” senior point guard Brian Smith said. “Some of the new guys may not have a concept of the RPI rankings and all the other rankings that the 'bracketologists' have. He puts in perspective what we have to do. He wants us to go out and achieve our goals.”
Kennedy calls himself a “sports guy” with no hobbies, and says he'd be watching college basketball on television even if he wasn't a college coach.
“A lot of coaches act like, 'Oh, I don't watch that, or I don't read the paper.’ C'mon, man. Everybody hears it. You can't escape it. It's my job to give perspective to it,” he said.
That perspective right now is that Saturday's win at Georgia was big on two counts: It came on the SEC road, where the Rebels had not won previously, and it got them two seven wins overall.
“No team in our league had ever gotten in with double-digit losses, and we weren't going to be the first,” Kennedy said.
But two have gotten in with 7-9 records since the SEC split into divisional play in the 1991-1992 season.
Arkansas received an at-large bid last year after going 7-9 in the regular season, then winning three games to play in the SEC tournament championship in Atlanta. Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Georgia were all 8-8 teams who were left out.
Alabama was 7-9 – 17-12 overall – when it received a bid in 2003.
Kennedy is confident that quality wins in the Rebels' 14-0 non-conference record will carry weight if Ole Miss defeats Georgia and Kentucky in Atlanta.
“I think we all realize that if we don't win our first game, we have no chance,” he said. “If we win our first game and don’t win our second, we're putting ourselves at the mercy of things we can't control. If we win our second game, then we can watch (the selection show) with a party on Sunday.”