SEC Tournament a chance to improve NCAA standing

By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal

ATLANTA – This is the time of year that a little more than half the teams in the SEC talk about the four-day run.
When wins are too few, RPI rankings too poor, the only number that matters is four – four wins in four days and qualify for the NCAA tournament.
Four wins to the four-letter tournament has been done twice in the last three SEC events, once each by Georgia and Mississippi State.
The Rebels were first on the victim list for Georgia in 2008, falling 97-95 in overtime. That’s the last time the SEC tournament was here. A Friday night tornado hit the building and caused major rescheduling on Saturday. Georgia actually won four games in three days, starting on Thursday when center Dave Bliss banked home a jumper from the edge of the lane.
“I remember that last shot that Dave Bliss hit off the backboard. That always stays in your memory,” said Ole Miss guard Trevor Gaskins. “I just remember how important it was for us. If we’d have won that game, we’d have probably gone to the NCAA tournament.”
Gaskins and guard Zach Graham are Atlanta natives who were both a part of Andy Kennedy’s first full recruiting class at Ole Miss.
Neither has experienced an SEC tournament win. Kennedy’s only such victory came in his first season at Ole Miss. The Rebels had a bye and defeated LSU on a Friday. Since the Georgia loss in 2008, Ole Miss lost to Kentucky in 2009 in Tampa and Tennessee last year in Nashville.
Because of a season-ending knee injury as a sophomore, Gaskins is a fourth-year junior with another season of eligibility. Not so for Graham, who has one last shot for an SEC tournament win. Graham will play in his school-record 133rd game today.
“The last time we were here was when we were freshmen,” Graham said. “It feels good to be back in your home state, but we’re hear for business, and that’s all I’m worried about.”
Both players will have more friends and family in the stands than they would for an average home game.
They hope to show those private cheering sections a strong performance with big 3-point shots, defensive stops and balanced scoring.
While Kennedy laments his team’s lack of consistency, Gaskins is equally perplexed.
“I’m not in other peoples minds, and I don’t know what they’re thinking. I guess everybody hasn’t come prepared to play, I don’t know. In practice we play hard. Everybody guards hard. If we guard in practice like we guard in the game we’d have won a lot more games,” he said.
Now it’s only about the next game where winning guarantees only the chance to play one more but carries the hope that win No. 1 is the first of four. Like Georgia.
Gaskins watched the Bulldogs celebrate on the Georgia Dome floor in 2008. At the time, he didn’t think it was the first of four.
“No, I didn’t think that at all. That came out of nowhere.”

Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or parrish.alford@journalinc.com.