By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Years from now, historians will flip through the pages of the Ole Miss basketball media guide – scroll down the pages with a track pad, perhaps – and find that the Rebels tied a school record with 27 wins and won an SEC championship.
They’ll find that a flamboyant newcomer jacked up a lot of shots, scored a lot of points and left SEC fans to decide whether to love or hate him.
They’ll see that a coach that won 20 or more games six times in seven seasons won the games to get the Rebels into the NCAA tournament after multiple runs to the bubble.
Sixty seven of 68 teams in the tournament end with a disappointing loss, as Ole Miss did in a 76-74 defeat against La Salle on Sunday night in Kansas City.
The Rebels missed their chance to reach the Sweet 16, but there was a lot to like about this team in the body of work.
The Rebels will be remembered for their late season surge, but lost opportunities can’t be brushed away.
Losses to two bad teams and a mediocre team with one great player made the late run non-negotiable if Ole Miss was to break through the NCAA barrier for the first time since 2002.
Win at South Carolina or Mississippi State and the tone would have been different going to Nashville. Win both, and the Rebels share the SEC title. Win those two and hold Elston Turner to 34 points instead of 37 in College Station, and the Rebels are outright SEC regular season champs.
Disappointing, yes, but the Rebels righted the ship and won six straight after the MSU loss with three of those wins coming against teams seeded 9, 3 and 5 in the NCAA tournament.
A team projected seventh in the SEC also got off to a 17-2 start and won its first six league games, half of those on the road.
The NCAA tournament had become such a focal point for this team, such a stated goal, that it could have peaked after beating Florida in the SEC tournament championship game and played flat and content in the bigger tournament.
It didn’t do that and won going away against Wisconsin, a top team in one of this season’s premiere conferences, the Big 10.
The NCAA “albatross,” as Andy Kennedy referred to it in Nashville, was finally removed from around the program.
Getting back to the tournament will be difficult. Ole Miss will have very little frontcourt experience next season. Marshall Henderson’s return for his senior season is anticipated, not guaranteed.
For now, a program that knew all too well the pain of coming close can celebrate a stellar season.
The Rebels played meaningful basketball in March – won big games – and captured its share of the nation’s attention behind one of the villains of postseason.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at InsideOleMissSports.com.