By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Just when it looked like the ship had sailed on an NCAA tournament bid for Ole Miss, maybe that ship hasn’t left the harbor just yet.
It’s a long shot, but the Rebels have revived their season after a three-game stretch that included encouraging effort at Kentucky, sandwiched between discouraging production against Tennessee and Vanderbilt, three big L’s on the schedule.
The Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) remains a critical component used by the NCAA selection committee when determining who will receive its at-large bids, an invitation the Rebels have coveted since their last tourney appearance in 2002.
The Rebels’ chances to reel in a bid are made tougher by Tennessee’s surge, and the fact that the Vols handily defeated Ole Miss in Knoxville will complicate matters if the selection committee feels it needs to compare those teams head to head.
With one regular-season game remaining, Ole Miss has a much stronger RPI, at 59 compared to Tennessee’s 81, but the Vols are two games up on the Rebels in the SEC standings.
The Ole Miss RPI jumped 10 spots following a 77-75 win at Arkansas Tuesday night, and that was with the Razorbacks sporting an RPI in the 80s at the time.
It stands to reason that a win against RPI No. 27 Alabama on Saturday could carry an equal amount of sway.
If the Rebels (17-12, 7-8 SEC) can strengthen their position they may very well have to clear the hurdle of the SEC image, which seems to be better than in recent seasons.
The SEC is rated No. 4 in conference RPI, but how many bids the league will get remains to be seen.
The league got five bids last year, four two years ago and just three the previous year.
Terrance Henry predicted an NCAA bid back in October and thinks the Rebels still have a chance to make the big tournament.
“I don’t want to say yes, I don’t want to say no,” he said. “I feel like if we handle business like we’re supposed to and some other things work out in our favor, I feel like we can.”
The Rebels find themselves in this situation because they failed to cash in on key RPI opportunities previously. Had they converted a final shot at the end of the first overtime in a two-OT loss at Alabama or collected themselves enough to knock off Florida (No. 19) or Vanderbilt (No. 21), both at home, the resume could look a lot different now.
Here the Rebels stand, though, with at least an argument to present, a meaningful basketball game against a top 30 RPI foe in their regular-season finale.
They’ve failed to convert opportunities like this previously this season.
Maybe the ship has sailed, maybe not. To fail to cash in again, though, would certainly close the book on this season’s NCAA tournament quest.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@ journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at Djournal.com.