PARRISH ALFORD: Rebels trending toward irrelevant

PARRISH ALFORD

PARRISH ALFORD

OXFORD

At the Daily Journal, we give our teams the benefit of the doubt at the beginning.

There comes a time, however, that struggling squads play their way out of our travel budget.

This is one of those times for Ole Miss.

Road issues were already apparent for the Rebels when we decided not to fund a Fayetteville trip, and a 30-point loss – a 46-point deficit with roughly 10 minutes to play – makes me think we had the right read on the situation.

Getting a read on the Rebels after a 110-80 loss at Arkansas is proving more difficult.

That teams play better at home than on the road is not new to college basketball. It’s unusual to see games get so out of hand as the Rebels did on Wednesday night.

It wasn’t so long ago that Ole Miss was 6-2 in the league in second place and had won back-to-back road games at Vanderbilt and South Carolina.

The schedule shifted gears, and the Rebels did not acquiesce. They also did not step up and make plays in winnable road games at Alabama and Georgia. In those games Ole Miss shoot poorly, rebounded poorly and had a chance to win in the final seconds regardless.

But they didn’t, then came back-to-back home games with Kentucky and Florida, both losses, and suddenly pursuit of an NCAA bid became a non-issue.

If there’s no fight in the Rebels at home against Vanderbilt on Saturday, even the NIT could become a non-issue.

That’s not a big deal, because an NIT bid really does nothing for this program right now.

In a preseason conversation, Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy disagreed with the notion that the absence of front-court bruisers Murphy Holloway and Reggie Buckner made this a rebuilding season. He pointed to a proven backcourt.

Fact of the matter is the new bigs have shown flashes but have not caught on. There have been no game-ready freshmen or newcomers as there have been in some previous recruiting classes.

Kennedy can’t afford for that to happen with next year’s recruiting class. College basketball is such a transient sport that someone new needs to make significant contributions each year.

Marshall Henderson will be gone, and the idea of 19 points a game subtracted from the lineup is frightening relative to available players who are sure bets to fill that void.

After a humbling loss at Arkansas we’ll see Saturday if the pride factor kicks in against Vanderbilt.

The recruiting factor needs to kick in, or a program coming off the emotional high of last year’s SEC tournament title and NCAA trip risks a backward step with a sparkling new arena on the horizon.

Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at InsideOleMissSports.com.