NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Ole Miss fans have increased in number here at Bridgestone Arena in anticipation for today’s SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament final. The No. 3 seed Ole Miss Rebels are back in action for the third day, this time taking on the No. 1 seed Florida Gators for the chance to win their first tourney title since 1981.Ole Miss (25-8) advanced to today’s title game by defeating Missouri 64-62 on Friday night and Vanderbilt 64-52 Saturday afternoon in the semifinals. Florida (26-6) defeated LSU 80-58 Friday in the quarterfinals and then rallied to top Alabama 61-51 in the semis Saturday.
The Gators and Rebels played once this season, with the Gators, who ended the regular season ranked No. 13 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, winning 78-64. The loss to Florida on Feb. 2 was the second in a row for the Rebels after starting SEC play with six straight wins. That win also gave the Gators five straight wins over the Rebels and 11 in the last 12 meetings.
What’s at Stake: The winner of the contest receives an automatic bid to next week’s NCAA Tournament. Florida is a lock to receive an at-large bid to the field of 68, but a win today would likely help its seeding. The Gators, ideally, would like to be a No. 2 seed instead of the No. 3 or 4 seed basketball observers see them at currently.
Of course the win would be huge for both teams, but in the case of the Rebels, it would eliminate any worry about making the field. It appears they have done enough to garner an at-large bid if they are unable to defeat the Gators, based on basketball analysts who project them as one of the last four teams into the field.
Ole Miss is 1-3 all-time in SEC title games. The last time they played in the title game was in 2001 when the Rebels lost 77-55 to Kentucky. Florida is playing in its sixth SEC championship game in the past 10 years, the most for any team during that period. Florida coach Billy Donovan is 3-2 in title games, with wins coming in 2005, 2006 and 2007.
I will have an update of the game at the half and a final roundup following the game.
(March 17, 2013)