February fades into March later this week, and Ole Miss basketball finds itself in a familiar yet unfortunate position.
With yet another charge to the gray area of NCAA tournament projections, the Rebels have seen more bubbles than Lawrence Welk’s orchestra.
Each game now brings an equal measure of dread or hope.
If the Rebels are to win out and finish 13-5 in the SEC, the loss at South Carolina may be the one that casts doubt on their NCAA chances.
Yet Saturday’s dominant win against Auburn – a bad team, but one that had been competitive in many of its 11 SEC losses – kept open the slightest window of opportunity, depending on which projections you like the most. Some have Ole Miss among the last four in, some the first four out.
In search of hope after Auburn, many will point to Marshall Henderson’s explosion of 8 for 12 3-point shooting. The shots are always there for Henderson, it’s the makes that have been inconsistent.
The Rebels have often gone as Henderson has gone this season. That wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. This was to be a team led by its experienced seniors, two of those being the bigs down low, Murphy Holloway and Reggie Buckner.
While Ole Miss needs Henderson’s hot hand to be the best team it can be, what it needs most is defense and rebounding from the bigs.
After too many lapses the last month, Holloway seems to have found his stride the last two games with 13 rebounds at South Carolina and 10 against Auburn.
Three of his rebounds Saturday came on the offensive glass, where he’d been virtually non-existent for three previous games prior to the South Carolina loss.
Holloway is at his best offensively when he’s grabbing the errant shots of his teammates. Maybe he scores with it – the best plan – and maybe not, but at least he resets the clock and gets another chance for someone else, probably Henderson.
in the zone
The Rebels have played more zone the second half of the season in an effort to keep Buckner and Holloway out of foul trouble after the season-ending ACL tear of energetic backup Aaron Jones.
It’s harder to rebound out of a zone, true, but at its core rebounding and defense are about awareness and effort.
There was more of that from Holloway against Auburn.
The Rebels could win the rest of their regular-season games and still approach Selection Sunday with a degree of uncertainty based on the unimpressive numbers of the SEC.
That will be far better, however, than the degree of certainty they’ll face if defense and rebounding falter, and they absorb more losses along the way.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Journal. He blogs daily at InsideOleMissSports.com.