Kennedy, Rebels not conceding amid long NCAA odds

Published 12:03 pm Friday, February 19, 2016

A 15-point loss at Texas A&M on Tuesday may have been the final bit of evaporation for Ole Miss’ chances of making any kind of serious push for the NCAA tournament.
But the Rebels aren’t giving up just yet.

The Aggies, ranked 25th in the NCAA’s updated RPI rankings, were Ole Miss’ last real shot to notch the kind of quality win its postseason resume severely lacks. Four of the Rebels’ final five regular-season games are against sub-100 RPI teams starting with a trip to Auburn (10-15, 4-9 Southeastern Conference) on Saturday (4 p.m., SEC Network).

Even if Ole Miss (16-10, 6-7) runs the table the rest of the way, head coach Andy Kennedy and his players have accepted the fact they’ll have to hang around a while in next month’s SEC tournament at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena and beat some of the teams closer to the top of the league standings to try to make things interesting.

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There’s no room for error until then.

“I wish we would’ve beaten Texas A&M, sure,” Kennedy said. “But I know we’ve got five games that will tell the tale for us on what needs to happen in Bridgestone Arena. That’s where we are.”

The Rebels, who have nearly as many sub-100 RPI losses (2) as top-100 wins (3), are trying to regain their rhythm since getting all their pieces back from injury. Forward Sebastian Saiz returned last week from the eye surgery that kept him out of all basketball-related activities for three weeks, which makes his 7.6 points and 5.3 rebounds in his first three games back — down from his season average of 12 points and 9.2 boards — understandable.

Going cold
Senior forward Tomasz Gielo continues his offensive surge (at least 15 points in each of his last five games), but guards Stefan Moody and Rasheed Brooks have gone cold. Moody still leads the league in scoring at 22.8 points a game but has been held below his usual 20 points in each of the last three games, shooting just 29.7 percent (14 of 47) from the floor and 23 percent from 3-point range (6 of 26) in that span.

Brooks, who averaged 15.3 points in the three previous games, followed up a scoreless game against Arkansas on Saturday with just four points against A&M on 2 of 9 shooting and has missed his last eight 3-point attempts.

“I maybe stepped into a bigger role, and I’m expected to come to play every night,” said Brooks, a junior college transfer. “It’s just an adjustment I’ve got to make. Moody, I just think he’s just getting back into his rhythm. I know everybody thinks his hamstring is all good. He’s a freak, so he heals faster than people, but he’s still hurting a little bit, I feel like. He may not say it, but I see him every day in practice. That’s not an excuse, but I think Moody is going to be fine.”

Kennedy said he’s still confident his team can get on a run, but the pieces have to start gelling now.

“Where was Alabama two weeks ago? They’re in the (NCAA) tournament right now,” Kennedy said. “You could say, ‘Well they have more opportunities,’ but where were the Ole Miss Rebels last year? I’ve been on both sides of this and in the middle. For us, the thing I’m the most excited about is the fact that we are whole.”