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Ole Miss bracing for blizzard, Monmouth in NIT

Andy Kennedy has a future tip for those responsible for selecting the National Invitation Tournament field.

“I’d like to propose that next year in the NIT room wherever that is that one of the televisions would be turned on to The Weather Channel,” Ole Miss’ coach said Monday.

That’s because Winter Storm Stella is bearing down on the Northeast, where the Rebels are scheduled to play their opening-round game of the NIT against Monmouth on Tuesday (6 p.m., ESPN3).

Monmouth’s main campus is in West Long Branch, a city on the coast of New Jersey. The storm is expected to hit that part of the country early Tuesday morning and bring with it winds in excess of 40 miles an hour and more than a foot of snow. West Long Branch is under a blizzard warning until 6 p.m. local time Tuesday, according to The Weather Channel’s official website.

Ole Miss’ coaches and players flew out early Monday afternoon and arrived safely in Trenton with plenty of layers in tow, but that left about a 50-mile ride to West Long Branch. Kennedy said he’s still not convinced the game will be played as scheduled, though it was still on for Tuesday as of early Monday night.

The fifth-seeded Rebels (20-13) are traveling because they’re the lower seed. Monmouth (27-6) is the 4 seed in the Syracuse bracket with the winner advancing to take on either the top-seeded Orange or UNC Greensboro later this week.

“We’re just concerned about getting up there, getting to the gym and making sure that the game is going to go on,” Kennedy said. “As you know, I’m follically challenged, so I was digging deep this morning trying to find a suitable hat just to avoid the hypothermia. When I got into my office this morning, I wanted to make sure that DirecTV is still in business, and it is. The channel is 362 for the committee next year. That’s the Weather Channel if they want to tune into that before they start setting these seeds.”

As for the team Ole Miss will be facing, Kennedy said the quick turnaround after the Rebels learned their postseason fate Sunday night has made preparation tough for a Monmouth team that’s been one of the nation’s best mid-majors the last two seasons. The Hawks won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular-season championship for the second straight year but were again relegated to the NIT after being upset by Siena in the MAAC tournament semifinals.

Kennedy mixed in a couple more weather-related jokes during his praise of Monmouth, which has a 55-14 record during that span.

“Without question the most successful two-year run of anybody in college basketball that has not had the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “(Monmouth coach King Rice) has got a special group led by a great group of seniors. I’m not super familiar with them until we saw them last night. Thank goodness technology is such that not only can you get the Weather Channel but you can also pull up game film of Monmouth. Really impressed. Did an all-nighter trying to just get up to speed prior to getting out my snow boots.”

UPDATE: Tuesday’s game is still on. The game will start at 6:15 p.m. CT and be aired on ESPN2 with Syracuse’s game against UNC Greensboro being postponed until Wednesday.