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Friday, May 22, 2015

Mindful of their RPI, Rebels head into ‘pothole’ season

COLUMN: Barring the unforeseen, Ole Miss basketball stands to break their NCAA Tournament drought and make the postseason tournament for the first time since March of 2002.

That’s barring the unforeseen, mind you, and the unforeseen — player arrests, exploding ACLs — have become sort of… predictable for this program under Kennedy.

Ole Miss is going to the dance, especially if the Rebels’ injury karma has been balanced with the losses of Demarco Cox and Aaron Jones and the rest of the lineup stays intact through the regular season.

They don’t have the greatest resume in the world, but with 18 wins entering this week, they’ve weathered the worst of the conference schedule (basically the only other conference teams with a shot at the postseason — Kentucky, Florida and two games against Missouri) and now sit with eight inarguably winnable games left.

In the best case scenario, that’s a potential 26 wins (15-3 in the SEC), and in the realm of logical expectations, like a 24-7 record entering the confernce tournament in Nashville, Tenn. With that many wins and the pedigree of coming from a “major” (cough cough) hoops conference, the Rebels are hard to deny, even if the league is once again horrific as a whole.

Will Kennedy’s team really close out with eight consecutive SEC wins to close the year? If so, it would beat the previous record by three. More than likely, Ole Miss drops a game here or there — and that’s the sneaky part.

The SEC is bad. They’re like… bad bad. Take a look at the RPI (courtesy of as of Monday) of the Rebels’ eight remaining opponents (Note: Ole Miss will play Texas A&M twice):

Texas A&M: 76

Georgia: 111

South Carolina: 210

Auburn: 205

Miss. State: 223

Alabama: 64

LSU: 112

For those of you unfamiliar with the RPI, consider that slate akin to trying to a boost a case for BCS inclusion by curb-stomping the bottom half of C-USA. While there’s no real danger left on the slate, there is the possibility for the Rebels to choke their way out of the tournament with less losses than you might think.

Look at South Carolina, Mississippi State and Auburn especially: those are RPI ankle weights, and if the Rebels were to inexplicably drop two of those three games, the resume blisters might be too ugly to cover up for the selection committee, who’d have no qualms in sending only two or three SEC teams to the dance (FYI, the Pac-12 sent one last season).

In a down year for a league that’s accustomed to down years, consider this laughable final stretch of conference play to contain at least three-must wins (the aforementioned RPI infections) if not more.

Ole Miss has finally broken through under Kennedy, and now the only thing between the Rebels and March Madness is not tripping up and being absolutely awful on a given night. Again — the inexplicable has haunted this program, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

It will be a lot harder to motivate a crazed sell atmosphere akin to the Kentucky game for the way under .500 Auburn Tigers, but at this point, winning that game might be more important for the Rebels. (February 12, 2013, Page 7)

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