With one game remaining in the regular season, Ole Miss Basketball is staring down a familiar reality: the team’s résumé is well short of meriting an invite to the NCAA tournament.
Of course, Rebel fans have been relatively spoiled of late in the NCAA invite department. It’s always a measure of a program’s success and vitality to secure a bid in the tournament, but it’s unrealistic to assume that you’ll contend for a spot every year. Perhaps the excitement of recent visits, coupled with the arrival of a shiny new arena, inflated Rebel Nation’s expectations for 2016.
It wouldn’t be fair to call this season a disappointing one, though. And perhaps missing out on a bid was in the Rebs’ best interest, after all.
If Ole Miss fails to win the SEC tournament (the only real shot they have at landing a spot in the NCAA bracket), but still puts in a solid showing in Nashville next week, the Rebels could find themselves in the advantageous position of playing host to some early NIT games.
And really, that may be in the program’s best interest. Should the Rebs make an improbable run in the SEC tournament, they would (likely) face the prospect of traveling to the other side of the country to be handled by a superior squad. The program’s fifteen minutes of fame would be relegated to a mid-afternoon game or two on an obscure sports channel, breezed over in wide-sweeping ESPN highlight segments and generally dismissed by everyone whose bracket is intact.
Or, alternatively, Ole Miss could host some winnable games in the brand-new Pavilion and show off their brand in a more positive light on a national stage.
It would certainly be a treat for Ole Miss fans, too, to get another few glimpses at Stefan Moody. No disrespect meant to Gielo, Newby, and Perez—the program’s other seniors—but Moody has been the engine to Andy Kennedy’s machine for the past couple of seasons, and has routinely dazzled Rebel fans with high-effort, athletic performances at both sides of the floor. He’s the latest in a long string of show-stopping Rebel guards, and his graduation will leave a gaping hole for Ole Miss Basketball in the Pavilion era (until the next guy steps up, presumably).
And really, doesn’t he deserve a better send-off in the Pavilion than an ultimately-meaningless game against a losing Mississippi State squad?
It’s curious to be a sports fan, sometimes, when you wish something other than the very best for your team. But who knows; the very best result of Ole Miss’s SEC Tournament might not be the very best result for the Rebs’ season, on the whole.
Or, Ole Miss could run through the SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament undefeated and be crowned national champions in Andy Kennedy’s tenth season. That’s why they call it March Madness: nobody really has any clue what’s about to happen, and that’s what makes it fun.
Ole Miss tips off at Tennessee at 11 am on Saturday, March 5. The SEC Tournament will be held at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, March 9-13.