By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Nick Williams is itching to get in his first SEC game.
It’s a big one, he says, not only because it will send him into a new frontier.
Ole Miss opens SEC play at Eastern Division member Florida Saturday evening with the chance to earn a win that will impress important people in March – members of the NCAA tournament selection committee.
“I think it’s very important to get wins against the East. The West is down this year, that’s what people are saying,” says Williams, a sophomore and native of Mobile, Ala., who sat out last year after transferring from Indiana. “We know if we’re going to make a push for the NCAA tournament we’re going to have to win some big games.”
The Florida game is big because of RPI. Ratings Percentage Index is a formula combing a team’s won-loss record, strength of schedule, opponents’ won-loss records and other factors to assign a value to that team. RPI is one of the main components used by the NCAA tournament selection committee to award at-large bids.
Currently the SEC has the No. 7 RPI among conferences, trailing the Big East, Big 10, Big 12, Mountain West, Atlantic Coast and Pac-10.
The drain on the SEC is coming from the Western half of the league.
The Ole Miss RPI of 57 is the top ranking in the West. Arkansas checked in at 139 at Realtimerpi.com on Thursday. The remaining SEC West teams were below 200, Auburn below 300.
That being said, some Eastern Division teams offer the chance for a resume-building win for the Rebels. Florida currently sports an RPI of 14.
“Those are the highly talked about teams in the SEC,” senior guard Zach Graham said. “Those (Eastern Division) wins will probably hold more weight.”
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy contends that numbers will change, and talking about RPI now is like talking about the weather.
He places no more emphasis on the Florida game because of the Gators’ RPI, he says.
“If I was in sports radio I would talk about it. People are opinionated, I get that,” he said. “But for me as a coach, it does me no good to sit down and talk about when we play Auburn in February.”
Some national college basketball observers have speculated that an SEC West team might require 12 or 13 league wins against the 16-game schedule to lock up an NCAA at-large bid going into the SEC tournament.
The Rebels, who completed their non-conference schedule at 12-3 with Wednesday’s 75-57 win at SMU, need not only to defeat Eastern teams but avoid losing to Western ones who could drop their RPI ranking.
“We still have to look at every game the same, because if we lose to an SEC West opponent that doesn’t have a great record that can really affect us,” Graham said.
Kennedy says he hasn’t discussed RPI with his players. They know RPI is important, he says, and he figures there’s enough media coverage about the strength of the Western Division to raise their antennae.
The picture will change quickly over the course of the next month. Things will play out, and if we win basketball games we’ll be where we are supposed to be,” he said.
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.