I won’t waste time debunking that (I don’t think folks in Chapel Hill or Lexington would agree), but outside of Big Blue Nation, that’s probably an acceptable rule of thumb in the SEC — at least in terms of morale.
The ambiguity of Ole Miss baseball and its quiet disappearance in yet another road NCAA Regional is fresh in the collective mind. It clouded a calendar year for that would otherwise be considered a righting of the ship and a return of faith.
For the record, Mike Bianco’s club has steadily (or maybe incrementally) improved their SEC win total in recent years, so technically this year can be considered a success on all fronts. And when — not if — you get a call asking for money, that will surely be mentioned: Everything is improving.
Ole Miss is a football school with a fan base inclined to believe that a rising pigskin floats all teams, but I’d still give my moment of the year to Derek Millinghaus. With Jarvis Summers suffering from a concussion, Millinghaus’ game-winning runner against Missouri in the SEC Tournament with 1.1 seconds changed the entire perception of the basketball program in a single two-point play.
Without it, Ole Miss likely loses to the Tigers in the opening game of the Tournament and repeats so many other SEC Tournaments in Andy Kennedy’s past. Without it, there’s more than likely a coaching search at the behest of a program with little to offer a major candidate. Without it, there’s nothing but questions.
With it, the Rebels would start a three-game run of overcoming double-digit deficits to win their first conference tournament in three decades, beat a strong Wisconsin team in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and reinvigorate — no, scratch that, validate — Kennedy and his program. Fair or not, sometimes it comes down to just one play.
It’s that play — and what that play allowed to happen after — that makes the men’s basketball team my Rebel team of the year, if I was voting (I’m not) for such an award (there isn’t one). It’s also a wonderful irony that now the proverbial ball is in the court of once-huffy Rebel Nation to truly, fiscally, act like a basketball fan base or shut up.
I don’t even cover basketball regularly, so maybe that’s why Kennedy’s team seems so particularly impressive. Where I do cast my attention is college football, and Hugh Freeze’s 7-6 laying-of-hands on a 2-10 Lazarus was nothing short of a miracle. There’s a strong argument for the football team, but they lacked a signature win until the Egg Bowl but, and their biggest victory came on paper in February.
I wouldn’t name Robert Nkemdiche, an athlete that as of this writing has still never worn an Ole Miss uniform, the Rebel of the year, but I would give such an award to “The Nkemdiche Effect.” A top recruit is a coup all its own for a program like Ole Miss, but to create a magnetic field that draws in nationally coveted wide receivers from Big 10 country and five-star linemen out of Florida is something that’s simply never happened in the history of this university’s athletic programs.
So see if this makes sense: It was Millinghaus’ moment that made basketball the team of the year, but it was the team of Freeze and his staff that made National Signing Day the moment of year.
Or, you can simply take comfort in both if you’re currently stomaching Mississippi State’s Omaha appearance.
Or, I could just write this column about the 2011-‘12 season.
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