Ole Miss basketball will have their fourth consecutive sellout at Tad Smith Coliseum tonight when the No. 16 Rebels host defending national champion Kentucky.
For a program that’s historically been an afterthought for the fan base, especially with the emergence of Ole Miss baseball under head coach Mike Bianco, four sellouts in a season would be noteworthy, much less four in a row.
Why the excitement?
You could pinpoint multiple reasons for packed crowds to watch Rebel basketball.
First of all, there’s junior guard Marshall Henderson. The Hurst, Texas native’s ability to score behind the arc is a show in itself, but when you add in his on-the-court antics, he’s definitely worth the price for admission.
Second, the entire Ole Miss fan base is excited. Ever since Ross Bjork took over as athletics director, a renewed energy has taken over on campus from alumni to students to just the average fan. It was obvious during the Rebels’ 7-6 football season in year one under head coach Hugh Freeze, and now, that excitement has carried over to basketball.
But the main reason for unprecedented excitement surrounding head coach Andy Kennedy’s squad can be placed on one thing: winning.
The Rebels are 17-2 overall and 6-0 in SEC play, both the best starts in program history.
Kennedy turned an unsuccessful program that wasn’t even getting a bid to play in the NIT into a perennial NCAA Tournament bubble team. While that usually would have folks in Oxford pleased, over 10 years without a bid in the Big Dance is enough.
Ole Miss wanted more, and right now, they’re getting it.
For the first time in Kennedy’s tenure in Oxford, Rebel fans feel this will be the year they will get over the hump and into the NCAA Tournament.
That brings fans. That brings excitement.
No one wants to watch a losing team. Fans want to watch a winner. That’s why the student section filled their section of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium this season and, for the most part, stayed until the end. That’s why students in right field have made Swayze Field one of the best college baseball atmospheres in the nation.
Say what you want about Tad Smith Coliseum. It has it’s flaws, and everyone knows that. But that is not why fans didn’t make it a point to attend basketball games last season or the season before that. What made crowds inconsistent was inconsistency on the court.
This season Ole Miss is winning and the fans are showing up.
For continuing coverage of Ole Miss men’s basketball, follow @DavidLCollier and @thedm_sports on Twitter.