USA TODAY Sports
The Rebels did not get any favors from the way the tournament bracket turned out.
Yesterday, I went over how Tennessee got the best draw in the SEC Tournament. Today, it's time to discuss why Ole Miss has the worst.
The Rebels are not too far from the field of 68, but they're still outside the dance based on the recent reckoning. The team shouldn't be in this bad of shape, but it had to go and lose to three of the bottom four teams in the league over the past month. A decent squad that still finds a way to lose to teams like this year's editions of Texas A&M, South Carolina, and Mississippi State down the stretch probably deserves to be making NIT reservations already, but this year's bubble is that soft. Had it won those three, we're talking about where Ole Miss will be seeded, not whether it will go dancing at all.
Every year, we see teams like this one. They're right on the edge and need to make an impact in the conference tournament to lock up a Big Dance ticket. Every year some number of them lose their first game in the conference tournament, and grim-faced sportscasters then break out the clichés like, "they can only look in the mirror for who to blame for being left out on Selection Sunday".
That's a long way of saying that Ole Miss needs at the very, very least one win in Nashville. More than one would be preferable. The problem is that the draw isn't fantastic for them.
It's hard to fault a team with a history like Ole Miss's for getting a double bye as the 3-seed, but it does reduce the number of wins they can get. Beating up on, say, the South Carolina-Mississippi State winner like Tennessee can would ultimately mean nothing regarding bubble positioning, but it would be a chance to get off on the right foot. Instead, Ole Miss's opening game will likely be against Missouri. The Rebels did beat the Tigers by 15 at home during their great run to begin the season, but during their late-season funk, they lost by 19 in Columbia.
Beating that Missouri team is basically a prerequisite for any hopes of playing in March Madness, and it's far from a given. The next game would probably be against Kentucky, but then again, maybe it won't be. Arkansas will play UK first if seeding holds and it beats Vandy, and the Hogs beat the 'Cats by 13 a week and a half ago. Big Blue has been inconsistent without Nerlens Noel, so it's no given that they'll be there waiting for Ole Miss. That'd still be some good news, as it would mean a bubble rival has gone down, but it'd be far better for the Rebels to deliver that blow to Kentucky themselves. Taking down Arkansas probably won't do anything for them in the committee's eyes.
The tournament final would probably pit Ole Miss against either Tennessee or Florida. The former would be fine; they swept the Vols in the regular season. The latter would not; they fell by 14 in Gainesville earlier this year. If the Rebels don't win the whole thing, would a pair of victories over Missouri and Kentucky be enough? It might be. What if they were over Missouri and Arkansas instead? From there, it gets iffy. Missouri is right on the 8/9 line, and a loss to Ole Miss in Nashville could drop them from there. And if Mizzou finds a way to lose to Texas A&M—again, it should be noted, as the Tigers lost to the Aggies early last month—then Ole Miss had better just go ahead and win the whole thing.
Andy Kennedy has been close to the NCAA Tournament a couple times as head coach in Oxford, but he's not won that elusive dance card just yet. This year's team, particularly with the SEC's leading scorer Marshall Henderson, is his best yet. It might finally be his year to break through, but the SEC Tournament seeding did him no favors in that quest.