OXFORD, Miss. – With the Southeastern Conference tournament quickly approaching, Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy realizes how important the final two games of the regular season are for his Rebels. But there has not been a lot of postseason talk in the team’s locker room as they prepare for their final two regular season games.
And Kennedy prefers it that way.
He doesn’t want to utter a word about the scenarios his team could face upon the conclusion of the regular season. He just wants his team to go 1-0 starting Wednesday night (7:30 p.m., SECN) against Alabama, another team that is playing for a bid into college basketball’s biggest tournament in March.
“I don’t know what they talk about when I’m not around, but when I am around we don’t talk about it. We talk about the fact that we’ve got an opportunity.”
Alabama and Ole Miss fighting for post season play
The Crimson Tide (16-12, 9-7 SEC) is in the same boat as Ole Miss, trying to play its way into the NCAA Tournament conversation. Alabama is currently on a two-game losing streak, damaging its NCAA Tournament hopes with losses to Georgia and Texas A&M. The Crimson Tide has not won a game since a 90-72 home victory over LSU on Feb. 18.
Alabama and the Rebels (18-11, 9-7) are currently tied for fifth place in the SEC. Vanderbilt was tied with both programs for the No. 5 slot; however, a road loss Tuesday night at No. 9 Kentucky dropped the Commodores to sixth place. Ole Miss owns the tiebreaker with Vanderbilt, as it relate to seeding purposes. So tonight’s matchup against Alabama means a lot to both teams, not only for NCAA Tournament purposes, but for seeding in the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Final two games important for SEC Tournament seeding
The Wildcats and No. 12 Florida have already secured the top two seeds in the conference tournament. South Carolina has secured one of the other top four seeds in the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament after its 63-57 win Tuesday night against Mississippi State, who has lost seven straight and nine of its last 10 games. Arkansas currently holds the fourth spot.
Ole Miss controls its own destiny this week. The Rebels will need to go 2-0 this week to secure the fifth seed in the tournament. Going 1-1 this week will drop Ole Miss to the sixth seed. For either scenario, the Rebels will need four wins in four days to win the conference tournament championship.
“We’ve still got a chance to be the five seed. We can control that based on the games we have in front of us,” Kennedy said. “Really, that’s our focus. It’s just ‘Hey man, let’s go play as good as we can in Tuscaloosa. Let’s come home and play as good as we can against South Carolina.’”
Kennedy knows the Rebels have a shot at positioning themselves well for the SEC Tournament if they can emerge victorious in the two remaining games of the regular season.
“They (Alabama and South Carolina) are two good basketball teams. Let’s continue to try and build momentum and be as whole as we can going into Nashville.”
Dealing with Alabama’s size
Ole Miss doesn’t have the size Alabama possesses in its frontcourt. The Crimson Tide has five available bodies that are least 6-foot-7–compared to the Rebels’ front court of Sebastian Saiz, Marcanvis Hymon, and Justas Furmanavicius. Because of its size, Alabama ranks second in the SEC in rebounding at 39.6 rebounds per game. The Crimson Tide leads the league with a +6.0 rebounding margin, but ranks last in scoring (68.9 ppg).
Ole Miss has won three of the last four against Alabama.
“They are good at what they do,” Kennedy said.
“They are the best defensive deficiency team in our league and they are the best rebounding team in our league. They are really, really big on their frontline. We are going to have to be better at what we do than they are at what they do.”
Andy Kennedy on matchup with Alabama
Ole Miss and Alabama tip off at 7:30 pm Wednesday, March 1 at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa. The game will be televised on the SEC Network. Dave Neal will call the play-by-play and Chris Spatola will handle the analyst duties.
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics)