Coach Andy Kennedy is taking Ole Miss to the NCAA Tournament after all.
Photo by Courtesy Ole Miss Athletics
Ole Miss finally broke through under head coach Andy Kennedy. The Rebels earned a berth into the NCAA Tournament after winning the SEC Tournament for the first time since 1981.
This is the second time the Rebels have won the SEC Tournament--the last when they defeated Georgia 66-62. This year, Ole Miss defeated the Florida Gators 66-63 to earn the SEC's automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
When the NCAA Tournament brackets were announced, the Rebels were placed in the West Region and given a 12th seed. Ole Miss will face fifth-seeded Wisconsin Badgers in their opening round game.
Wisconsin barely missed upsetting Ohio State for the Big Ten Championship on the same afternoon the Rebels won their conference title. The Badgers fell 50-43 to the Buckeyes in a grind-it-out game typical of the ones Wisconsin plays under head coach Bo Ryan.
Ole Miss (26-8) will try to impose their up tempo style against the slow plodding style of Wisconsin (23-11). Both teams are very good defensively and force their opponents into bad shots and turnovers.
On average, Wisconsin scores 66 points per game and gives up 56 points to their opponents. Ole Miss scores 65 points per game and allows slightly more points than the Badgers at 59 points per game.
Leading the Rebels will be one of the most colorful personalities in the tournament, guard Marshall Henderson, who averages 20 points a game and leads Ole Miss and the SEC in scoring. The Howell Trophy winner always has his emotions on display.
If you are a fan of Ole Miss or a neutral party, Henderson antics are fun to watch. If your team is playing against Henderson, he his act will get on your nerves quickly when he is dropping big shots on your team.
Ole Miss second leading scorer (14.6 points per game) Murphy Holloway is also the top rebounder (9.6 rebounds per game) on the squad will be needed against the physical Badgers. Reginald Buckner will also be needed to help protect the basket against Wisconsin.
The wildcard for Ole Miss might be freshman guard Derrick Millinghaus who hit several big shots in the SEC Tournament. Millinghaus ended up filling in for sophomore guard Jarvis Summers who missed games in the conference tournament because of concussion symptoms.
Ole Miss faces a tough test against a Wisconsin team that doesn't have any major stars but played in the toughest basketball tournament this season, the Big Ten.
The Badgers are going to play a physical, slow and deliberate style.
The Rebels face the Badgers on Friday at 11:40 a.m. on Tru TV. If Ole Miss defeats Wisconsin, they will face the winner of the Kansas State/play in winner between Boise State/La Salle winner.
Wisconsin played in a tougher conference and played a tougher nonconference schedule than Ole Miss, facing four teams that made the NCAA Tournament.
The Rebels faced only one team in their nonconference schedule and lost, going down 65-62 to Middle Tennessee on the road.
Ole Miss will have to get a monster game from Henderson and play defense like they did during the SEC Tournament. Recent tournament history says that 45 seeds can do very well against five seeds, but the Rebels haven't been to the tournament since 2002.
Wisconsin, on the other hand, has made the NCAA Tournament 15 straight years. Last season the Badgers reached the regional semifinals after winning their first two tournament games.
Ole Miss and Wisconsin have never met in the NCAA Tournament. The Badgers are 6-0 in the first round of the tournament under current coach Bo Ryan when they are a fifth seed or higher.
Ole Miss will give Wisconsin all they want and then some, but the Rebels lack NCAA Tournament experience while the Badgers are full of experience. I have a feeling that Wisconsin will find a way to win a close game.
The Rebels are coming in hot so a major first round upset shouldn't be a surprise. If the Badgers can't contain Henderson, then all bets are off that Wisconsin advances.
Wisconsin 68 Ole Miss 65