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Rebels get 7 seed, open SEC tourney vs. ‘Bama

Ole Miss knows the road ahead. Now comes the hard part.

The Rebels earned the No. 7 seed in this week’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and will start tournament play against 10th-seeded Alabama on Thursday at 6 p.m. at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. Ole Miss (20-11) and Georgia both finished with a 10-8 league record after wins over Tennessee and Alabama, respectively, in their regular-season finales Saturday, but the Bulldogs earned the No. 6 seed with their season sweep of third-seeded South Carolina serving as the tiebreaker.

Ole Miss will need to at least get to the tournament final on Sunday if not win it all to get back to the NCAA Tournament. Getting to the championship will require three wins in three days, including a win on Friday over Kentucky, which has a first-round bye as the No. 2 seed, should the Rebels get past Alabama (17-13).

The Rebels’ draw gives them a chance to quickly enhance a body of work that consists of just three top-100 RPI wins and one top-50 victory should they get past Alabama. Kentucky is 13th in the NCAA’s latest RPI rankings while South Carolina, which will get either Mississippi State or Georgia in its first-round game Friday, is 53rd.

But first things first for Ole Miss against an Alabama team it beat 74-66 in the teams’ only meeting this season on Jan. 7. The Rebels won four of their last five games entering the tournament while Alabama has lost four of five.

“Your first-round game in the SEC Tournament, is that going to help you? No, but then you get opportunities and we’ll have to go through a couple to even get to the finals,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “If we’re playing on Sunday, I think the conversation is completely changed.”