One national CBB thought
March is upon us. Don’t look now, but Selection Sunday is just 17 days away.
If you subscribe to the national media’s diagnosis of college basketball this season, you’ll know that the bubble — the group of teams on the fringe of the tournament — is uncharacteristically weak this year. No conference embodies this more than the Pac-12 — or Washington and the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad conference, as it should be called.
In Joe Lunardi’s latest “bracketology,” Washington is the only Pac-12 team safely in the tournament conversation. Arizona State is part of his “last four in” and will most likely have to make it to the final weekend of the Pac-12 tournament to cement its tournament status. From top to bottom, it’s one of the worst performances a Power 5 conference has had in years.
If Arizona State falters, it will be the first time since 1985 — when the tournament expanded to 64 teams — that a power conference has not sent at least two teams to the NCAA Tournament.
For context, the other four Power 5 conferences (Big 12, Big 10, SEC and ACC) are projecting an average of eight teams receiving bids to the Big Dance.
Three Ole Miss thoughts
1) John Kermit Davis Jr., the tea-sipping, jacket-throwing, program-altering front man of Ole Miss basketball, was left off of the list of finalists for the Naismith College Coach of the Year Award.
Realistically, Davis would not have won it. While completely uprooting a culture of mediocrity and catapulting a last place team into the NCAA Tournament in less than a calendar year is certainly no small feat, the award is typically given to coaches of teams competing for a top-3 seed in the tournament.
Make no mistake though — Davis got snubbed. The good news for him, and for his team, is that trophies bear no weight when the ball tips off in March.
2) “Your greatest strength begets your greatest weakness,” William Shakespeare once said.
With 19 seconds remaining in Wednesday’s loss to Tennessee, Breein Tyree stepped toward the free-throw line with a chance to put the game on ice and deliver the program its biggest win in 10 years. Tyree, who shoots 83 percent from the charity stripe, missed the front end of a 1-and-1, and the rest is history.
The loss isn’t Tyree’s fault. There’s no other player on the Ole Miss team who Kermit Davis would have wanted shooting free throws in that moment. In fact, he said during the press conference that he actually drew up the inbounds play to get Tyree the ball for that exact situation. Until then, Ole Miss and Tyree were perfect: 14-of-14 from the line. Sometimes, the shots just don’t fall.
3) The loss to Tennessee undoubtedly stings. Regardless of whether you think the referees blew a lopsided whistle or not, the fact hurts that Ole Miss had an opportunity to knock off a team in consideration for a No. 1 seed and squandered it as the final seconds waned. But it won’t hurt their tournament resume. Rather, it should do the opposite.
“Nobody will look forward to playing Ole Miss,” Rick Barnes said in a post-game press conference. “That’s a Sweet 16 or Elite 8 team right there.”
Pleasantries aside, what Barnes said is true. Ole Miss proved on Wednesday that no matter the opponent, no matter the officiating and no matter the circumstances, it can hold its own with the elites of college basketball.
One look ahead
At 19-9 overall and 9-6 in the SEC, Ole Miss has a puncher’s chance at securing the fourth seed for the SEC Tournament in Nashville. Ole Miss should waltz into Fayetteville, Arkansas, on Saturday and dismantle an Arkansas team that’s 5-10 in the SEC and just ready to get to the offseason rebuild. From then, it’s logical to predict a split against Kentucky and Missouri to finish the season.
Ole Miss is currently tied for fourth with South Carolina, Florida and Mississippi State, all of whom hold tie-breakers over the Rebels.
The most likely scenario is that Ole Miss enters Nashville as a 5 or 6 seed, which ensures a first-round bye. They’ll face one of the bottom four seeds — all teams Ole Miss has already defeated this season. Because the SEC is so deep this season — Lunardi projects the SEC will send eight teams to the NCAA tournament — one win in Nashville should ensure that the Rebels go dancing.