By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
A place at the table in Hoover is already secure, and a place in the NCAA tournament might be.
For a program that missed both of the tournaments last year, getting back to the latter is the top priority.
If you make the NCAAs, you almost certainly just finished playing in the SECs, that being more certain now since the conference bracket has expanded to 10 teams.
There is always something to play for in the final conference weekend – which begins tonight at 6:30 when Ole Miss faces Vanderbilt in Nashville – although sometimes the stakes are different.
There’s a popular belief that Ole Miss, with 14 SEC wins and an RPI ranking of 21, has done enough to earn an NCAA at-large bid.
While the emotions might have been, the RPI was not impacted in a negative way following the Rebels’ 10-5 loss at Arkansas State Tuesday night.
There’s a lot of water under the bridge now, and Ole Miss has still gone 6-6 against teams ranked in the RPI top 15.
The loss in Jonesboro took some of the edge off an SEC sweep of Tennessee, but the Rebels have a chance to refocus on what really matters, and that’s three games at Vanderbilt.
Ratings Percentage Index is a formula that combines wins, losses, strength of schedule and other factors to arrive at one number.
The make-up of committees varies, and while RPI is an important component in the selection process each season, it isn’t the only component.
The best thing the Rebels can do is remove any possible lingering discussion of their at-large bid bona-fides. Take it out of the committee’s hands. One more win might do that. A single victory at Vanderbilt would leave Ole Miss at 15-15 in the SEC, which has the No. 2 RPI rating among conferences.
The Rebels were 15-15 when they played at Miami in 2008, 16-14 when they traveled to Virginia in 2010. Those seasons were followed by a combined five SEC tournament wins.
Other goals are within reach, such as hosting a regional at Swayze Field, something that last happened in 2009, two years after a string of four Oxford Regionals was snapped when the Rebels traveled to Miami.
The new Swayze Field was built with regionals and record crowds in mind. The Rebels haven’t done enough to this point to really be in the mix, and getting back to Swayze will require some combination of success against surging Vanderbilt, success in Hoover and other games to break the right way along the way.
After an eight-year run of SEC and NCAA postseason ended last year, the first business is beginning a new streak.
Otherwise Ole Miss will be streaking in the wrong direction.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at Djournal.com.