Here’s a few highlights:
—A four-team tournament at Barclay’s Arena in Brooklyn (the home of the NBA’s Nets and NHL’s Islanders) featuring the Rebels, Penn State, Georgia Tech and St. John’s.
— Four games against 2013 NCAA Tournament teams: Oregon, Kansas State (the team the Rebels could’ve faced instead of LaSalle), Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee.
—A Mercer team that upset Tennessee in the NIT. As a son of Macon, Ga., I warn you that these Baptists can ball.
Now, much like the majority of you, I’m a confused and naïve authority on this basket hoop bounce sport thing. Despite that, I can surmise that this is as quality a non-conference schedule that one could ask for from this Ole Miss program. UNC didn’t return their calls, sadly.
Why’s a quality non-conference schedule important? Aside from Tournament resume reasons, because the Rebel “faithful” spent a good portion of last year’s NCAA run blaming the Rebels for their own RPI plight, despite the fact Ole Miss had nothing to do with multiple RPI land mine games in conference against awful programs like South Carolina and Mississippi State.
Of course, lobbing criticism at Andy Kennedy, the athletic department and the sport of basketball itself is nothing new for the Rebel “faithful.” Some complaints are legit problems (Tad Smith’s decrepit hospitality) and some are insanely ignorant gripes (Andy Kennedy’s “style” and the “them boys playing ‘streetball’’ message board analysis).
If I had to guess right now, I’d expect the “faithful” to ignore their own foot-in-mouth disease before admitting that the current leadership structure might actually be competent enough to guide such a historic and storied hoops program as Ole Miss’. But chest beating is fruitless — the real issue here is whether or not fans who long dangled their
fiscal support as a threat to Kennedy’s job security will follow suit and sell out Tad Smith for these crucial-yet-during-football-season games.
Season ticket packages are yet to go on sale through Ole Miss, but I’ll be interested to see how many of the malcontent, fickle Rebel “faithful” will follow through this season. My guess is far less than the amount that moaned loudly throughout Kennedy’s run of near-miss NCAA Tournament seasons.
You’re either a fan base that supports big-time college hoops or you aren’t. Duke is, and you know it. Auburn isn’t, and they’ll admit it. No shame in that, either. Boston University has one hell of a hockey team and that doesn’t make UCLA fans feel inadequate.
The issue locally is that in all matters hardcourt, Rebel fans talk like Kentucky and act like Northwestern. Post-Nashville, 2013, the program has proven its worth; this scheduling announcement is only another sign of improvement. So when the Rebels can’t compete for top recruits or even halfway fill up a relatively small D-I gym for a game against a Sweet 16 squad like Oregon, who will be left to blame?
Not AK: Kennedy’s now bonafide by your own standards: “Just make the tournament.”
Not Ole Miss: The athletic department’s flagship fundraising drive is for a new arena as soon as possible.
Not the league: The SEC’s fat, football-first TV contracts allow for way more national broadcasts than the overall quality of its basketball product probably deserves.
If there isn’t a noticeable uptick in ticket sales (single and season) and general basketball fan IQ (QUICK: Name next year’s starting five right now! You can’t, but you won’t stop e-mailing me about backup right tackles), then we can surmise that the problem lies within. Among the “faithful.” Among the “Good Rebels.” Among those who swore they’d get behind this program once it gave them a reason to, and could now stand to be exposed as hypocrites.