Over the past seven games, Ole Miss fans have watched their basketball team slip down a dangerous path; after maintaining a record above .500 for much of the season, the Rebels are now a generous 11-16 and struggling. At this point in the season, fans are no longer worrying about when the Rebels will win again. No, now the focus is if the Rebels will win another game this season.
Last fall, there was plenty of March Madness hype surrounding Ole Miss. The roster looked to be the strongest in years, and head coach Andy Kennedy was as confident as ever. But that kind of talk is long over. Five games under the .500 mark, Ole Miss has just four games left in the season to make a case for a National Invitational Tournament (NIT) bid. A second-tier postseason tournament, the Rebels are legitimately on the NIT bubble. Looking at the remaining games on its schedule, the chances are not looking good for Ole Miss.
As of 2006, teams are no longer required to be at or above a .500 record to qualify for the NIT. However, the selection committee primarily considers teams that are “near the .500 mark” for placement in the tournament. Ole Miss’ 11-16 is not near .500. Teams simply cannot expect a decent postseason tournament berth with a .407 win percentage. Realistically, the Rebels will need to win at least two of their remaining four games if they are to have any shot at all of being chosen for the NIT. With that ultimatum in mind, the outlook in Oxford is bleak.
On Tuesday night, Ole Miss will go on the road to take on Mizzou, who already beat the Rebels in a somewhat-close matchup a few weeks ago in front of a loud Pavilion crowd. Arguably, Ole Miss has only spiraled further out of control since. Following that game, the team will return home to take on a red-hot No. 18 Tennessee team that absolutely thrashed the Rebels in Knoxville earlier this year. Immediately following will be a road trip to Lexington, which speaks for itself. Even as Kentucky continues to play one of its least impressive seasons over the past decade, the Wildcats are an elite group. The Rebels’ season will end at home against Vanderbilt, who has the same record as Kennedy’s team.
Realistically, the Mizzou game will be tough for the Rebels, but it is not impossible. Without Michael Porter Jr., the Tigers are mortal. Good? Yes, but beatable. This game is probably a must-win to keep March’s NIT hopes alive. Barring miracles even Marshall Henderson would be impressed with, the Tennessee and Kentucky games are basically guaranteed notches in the loss column. The season could end with a toss-up game pitting Ole Miss against fellow SEC-bottom dweller Vanderbilt. While the Rebels will have home-court advantage, they have not demonstrated much aversion to adversity in the 2017-18 season. Anything could happen, but do not expect the unexpected.
All conference champions who are not given bids to the NCAA Tournament are guaranteed bids to the NIT, so if the Rebels are unable to salvage a pair of wins from their remaining schedule, it would take an SEC Tournament championship to revive their postseason hopes. Not likely, but then again, Ole Miss basketball is long overdue for some luck.