Ole Miss/New Miss
OLE MISS SUDDENLY A THREAT IN THE SEC, SITTING AT 6-0 AS KENTUCKY COMES TO VISIT
Ole Miss has been overshadowed by Mississippi State more often than not in recent years in SEC basketball. But, the Rebels have a chance to make a statement Tuesday Night when they host traditional bully Kentucky in a game that will be nationally televised by ESPN.
Ole Miss is a perfect 6-0 so far in SEC play, including a blowout win over Missouri.
Kentucky is in a down year, which gives Ole Miss the latest opportunity to stick it to the Wildcats (as Alabama and Texas A&M have already done in league play.
Ole Miss enters the game ranked #16 in the country. That will get the media talking about the Rebels as a possible Sweet 16 team in high profile TV action this week. The crescendo will grow louder if Ole Miss wins impressively Tuesday Night.
Ole Miss will face Florida for the only time during the regular season this Saturday in Gainesville. So, this WEEK presents an opportunity to create a "New Miss" in college basketball that will make everyone forget that Ole Miss has largely been irrelevant for quite some time.
Of course, you regulars know that you should place much more importance on respected computer ratings than media polls. That was more clear than ever last week when many ranked teams were "upset" even though they were the betting underdog in the game. Las Vegas uses the computers when determining a line. They don't even pay attention to the polls since the media-influenced general public doesn't bet much college basketball until March Madness.
Let's see what the computer estimates of Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin say about Tuesday's tussle, the SEC race, and how many SEC teams may be dancing come March...
SEC COMPUTER RANKINGS
Florida: #1 with Pomeroy, #1 with Sagarin
Kentucky: #22 with Pomeroy, #20 with Sagarin
Mississippi: #26 with Pomeroy, #24 with Sagarin
Missouri: #36 with Pomeroy, #25 with Sagarin
Alabama: #66 with Pomeroy, #56 with Sagarin
Arkansas: #78 with Pomeroy, #73 with Sagarin
Tennessee: #90 with Pomeroy, #60 with Sagarin
You can see why Ole Miss has some work to do. The computers still have them worse than Kentucky, even though Ole Miss is 6-0 in SEC play and Kentucky is just 4-2. It's clear to this point in the season that the Rebels are in the Big Dance. Usually the top 45-50 are going to get at-large bids depending on how many automatic bids go to lesser ranked teams. Can they make a case that they should be seeded as high as #4? Or, is this the week that Ole Miss is exposed as a pretender against Kentucky and Florida, and must accept a mid-level seeding?
The SEC as a whole is in some trouble. Right now, only four teams are in position to be safe for invitations. Alabama is still off the pace even though they beat Kentucky. And, given Missouri's erratic play (including blowout road losses at Ole Miss and Florida), the Tigers aren't a sure thing to close strong and stay in the mix.
Handicappers should pay very close attention to Kentucky/Ole Miss tonight because there just aren't very many games this year where the SEC's elite is playing each other. As great as Florida is (the uncrowned #1 team with the computers and many sharps regardless of what the polls are saying), even the Gators are going to wish they were more battle tested come tourney time.
REMAINING GAMES AMIDST THE SEC'S BEST FOUR
Tuesday: Kentucky at Ole Miss
Saturday: Ole Miss at Florida
February 9: Ole Miss at Missouri
February 12: Kentucky at Florida
February 19: Florida at Missouri
February 23: Missouri at Kentucky
March 9: Florida at Kentucky
You can see why Ole Miss needs to grab everyone's attention now. They completely fall off the radar before Valentine's in terms of marquee matchups vs. important opponents. Kentucky will have a chance to close strong as their youngsters continue to gain experience. Florida can put itself solidly in position for a #1 seed with late road wins at Missouri and Kentucky.
For those of you interested in a more in-depth look at the SEC race, here are the current standings in the expanded 14-team circuit...
Ole Miss 6-0
Texas A&M 2-4
South Carolina 2-4
Mississippi State 2-4
You know a conference is in trouble when seven different teams have 2-4 records at the six-game mark! And, LSU makes it eight teams who are 2-4 or worse. What should most interest handicappers is Kentucky's ledger to date. Now that you've seen the full standings, Kentucky's 4-2 record isn't very impressive. Let's review:
Kentucky barely beat 2-4 Vanderbilt by a bucket on the road
Kentucky lost at home to 2-4 Texas A&M
Kentucky beat 2-4 Tennessee by 10 points at home, playing to expectations
Kentucky blew out 2-4 Auburn in very impressive fashion
Kentucky lost at 4-2 Alabama
Kentucky only beat 1-5 LSU by 5 points in Lexington
Sorry...that's shouting PRETENDER at this point. Kentucky only played one opponent that's better than .500 in league action...and that was a loss. Versus teams at 2-4 or worse, Kentucky had one great showing, one decent showing, and three disappointing results compared to expectations.
So, there's a lot at stake for BOTH teams Tuesday Night in the TV game. Ole Miss craves respectability. Kentucky needs to show that they're not just an SEC mediocrity that's barely better than bad teams!
Will Ole Miss match what Miami of Florida did last week in is annihilation of Duke...scoring an overwhelming home win against a public superpower in a way that will put them definitively on the map? The stage is set...and this Kentucky team may be shakier than Duke in terms of road maturity. Or, is this the week where Ole Miss is exposed as a pretender? Are they the SEC's version of Illinois who can't really stay with elite teams when forced to take the floor against them?
We've reached a point in the season where all games are important. But, the result of THIS one will have serious ramifications throughout the conference and the postseason brackets.
JIM HURLEY has some very strong ideas about Tuesday's card...and those just might involve this TV showcase. Other big play possibilities include:
Wisconsin at #11 Ohio State on ESPN
#19 North Carolina State at Virginia on ESPN2
Nevada at UNLV in a Mountain West Special
Dallas at Portland in the NBA
New Orleans at the LA Lakers on the NBA Network
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Back with you tomorrow for another busy day in basketball. Wednesday Nights are like Saturdays because the schedules are so big! From the Big East to the Big West...from SEC to the Horizon, link up with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK for the best basketball games on the board!
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