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Journey Ends for Five Seniors

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A four-year starter at point guard, one of the most accomplished players in program history, senior Jarvis Summers saw his Ole Miss career come to an end, as did four of his fellow seniors in LaDarius White, Aaron Jones, M.J. Rhett and Terence Smith.

They helped the Rebels to a 21-13 record and the eighth NCAA Tournament appearance and the fifth NCAA Tournament win in program history. Summers, White and Jones are members of a select group, becoming just the seventh senior class to make at least two trips to the Big Dance.

For Rhett and Smith, graduate transfers from Tennessee State and UT Martin, respectively, they experienced the NCAA Tournament for the first and only time, realizing the goal that they set out to accomplish when they began their respective careers at Ole Miss.

"I hate it for Jarvis," head coach Andy Kennedy said. "He's had a tremendous career for us. He's been a leader, he's been steady. He's had a tough year all year shooting the basketball, and I guess it's somewhat fitting that he would end with his struggles offensively. 

"Without Jarvis and without Snoop and without A.J. and without M.J. and without Terence, the five seniors who the journey ends tonight, you know, we're not here. We're not in the NCAA and we're certainly not in the position that we were to have the chance to advance. I'm proud of those guys and what they were able to accomplish."

Summers finishes his career as just the fourth player in SEC history with 1,600 career points and 500 assists. He is also one of only nine players in Ole Miss history with 80 career wins, serving as a mainstay at the point guard position since the early part of his freshman season.

To the end, despite his performance in his final college game, Summers showed true leadership, putting the team before himself, as he has throughout his decorated career.

"It's really frustrating," Summers said. "All this year, I have been struggling, and I couldn't get things going, but I'm not a person who makes excuses. If it's on me, it's on me, and all I can do is move forward."

From his five years at Cincinnati, three as an assistant coach and one each as associate head coach and interim head coach, head coach Andy Kennedy knows and has experienced the Xavier program first hand, having coached against the Musketeers in the annual Crosstown Classic.

Xavier, 21-13, is making its 25th all-time appearance in the NCAA Tournament, its ninth in 10 years, becoming one of only 11 programs that have been to the Big Dance at least nine times over the last 10 years. The Musketeers have also clinched its ninth 20-win season in the last 10 years. 

"They're exactly what I thought they would be," head coach Andy Kennedy said. "They're not going to give you anything easy. They're very, very fundamentally sound on both sides of the ball. We've just got to do what we do, and that's be the aggressor, try to play downhill, try to be as disruptive as possible against a team that passes it as well as anybody in the country."

As a team, Xavier leads the Big East in field goal percentage (.473) and assists (16.4) and ranks second in scoring at 73.6 points per game. However, compared to their most recent NCAA Tournament matchup with BYU that featured a combined 194 points, Kennedy and his team expect a much more rugged, less free-flowing contest when they face the Musketeers on Thursday afternoon.

Ole Miss senior forward M.J. Rhett said Xavier reminded him of Georgia because of their style of play. Xavier head coach Chris Mack said Ole Miss is similar in physicality and athleticism to a Cincinnati-type team. Both teams faced the same challenge in essentially preparing for the other team in 36 hours.

"For us, it's just making sure that we do our best to take them out of their strengths," Kennedy said. "You never want to get beat with another team's strengths, and that's what our focus will be on in preparation for tomorrow afternoon's game."

"By this time of the year, you really focus more importantly on what your own team does, not necessarily trying to take away every little play and counter that the other team is running," Mack said.

Ole Miss has gone through a two-day turn twice, as well as a one-day turn when the Rebels played No. 23 Creighton and Cincinnati in back-to-back days at the Emerald Coast Classic, but they haven't gone through a turn quite like the whirlwind, as head coach Andy Kennedy described it, this week.

The Rebels closed out a 94-90 win over BYU, a game that ended around 11 p.m. local time Tuesday in Dayton. The team walked out of UD Arena around 12:30 a.m., flew to Jacksonville and then arrived at their hotel around 4:30 a.m., before starting preparations for sixth-seeded Xavier that included a shootaround Wednesday evening at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.

"Well, for us, it's just about making sure that our guys are physically rested, not only the demands of the travel with such an emotional game, and we had to expend so much energy in order to come back," Kennedy said.

"So we want to make sure our guys are rested physically because we know the challenge Xavier is going to present, rugged, not going to give you anything easy, a little bit different flow than what we faced last night. And we want to give them as much information as possible without bogging us down. We're going to be who we are; Xavier is going to be who they are. We've got to do a good job of imposing our will on the game like we were fortunate enough to do the second half last night."

There are advantages and disadvantages to Ole Miss having played an additional First Four game on Tuesday, while Xavier hasn't played in nearly a week, a 69-52 loss to Villanova in the Big East championship game on March 14.

"The disadvantage that we have per our opponent is obviously what we just described, the physical demands of what it's taken to get here," Kennedy said. "The advantage that we have is we have a win in this tournament. We just scored 62 points in a half. We just overcame a 17-point deficit, which is the biggest since 2007 in this tournament. We've got a lot of guys feeling pretty good about themselves."

The Rebels carry a lot of momentum into Thursday, particularly on the offensive end, having shot 60 percent from the field in the second half to finish the game at 45 percent in the win over BYU. Six Rebels scored in double figures, including all three members of their big three in Stefan Moody, Jarvis Summers and LaDarius White.

Moody led the way with an Ole Miss NCAA record 26 points, including 15 in the second half. Summers posted his second career double-double with 11 points and 10 assists, compared to just one turnover. M.J. Rhett added a career-high 20 points, including 14 after halftime.

"Well, it's definitely not emotionally draining," Rhett said. "We're just going to roll off of how we played in the second half. Being that we can come back from a 17-point deficit, if we can just fix our first half performances and play better in the first half and keep our second half, because we're a second half team for the most part. So if we could just hold down our first half and come back in the second half and do what we do, we'll be fine."

Giant Killers come in many different shapes and forms in the NCAA Tournament. 

They are not just your teams from smaller and mid-major conferences, but also your lower-seeded power-conference teams. As defined by ESPN's Peter Keating and Jordan Brenner, Giants Killers are teams that defeat an opponent seeded at least five spots higher in the NCAA Tournament.

When the bracket came out on Sunday, Keating and Brenner considered 11th-seeded Ole Miss the second-most likely Giant Killer to pull off a Round of 64 upset , giving them a 38.9 percent to upset sixth-seeded Xavier, second only to fellow 11th-seed BYU, which had a 51.0 percent chance against the Musketeers.

Now, after Ole Miss' thrilling 94-90 win over BYU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Tuesday, the Rebels are considered the most likely Giant Killer to pull off a Round of 64 upset.

Ole Miss is coming off a season-high 94 points, including 62 second-half points, which was the most points scored in the second half of a NCAA game since 2007. The Rebels also erased a 17-point halftime deficit, the largest halftime deficit overcome, also since 2007.

History also favors a possible upset in the Round of 64.

Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, No. 11 seeds have a 41-79 record against No. 6 seeds, a winning percentage of 34.2 percent. Also, since tournament expansion, 17 teams selected as No. 11 seeds have advanced to the Sweet 16, the last being Tennessee and Dayton last year.

Winners of First Four games have also had recent success in the NCAA Tournament, as at least one First Four team has won multiple games each year since the tournament expanded to 68 teams in 2011, including two Sweet 16 participants and one Final Four participant.

Here's more from Keating and Brenner on Ole Miss and its matchup with Xavier:

The one matchup in the West where it's worth abandoning chalk is actually the easiest to explain. Xavier is a fine team, but they're not outstanding in the areas that help keep Giants safe against Killers. They're only average on the offensive boards and at forcing turnovers (ranking 158th in each category), and as a further warning sign, they are weak at defending the perimeter. That kind of generic Giant loses to Killers, on average, more than twice as often as other types. Moreover, there's just not five seeds' worth of difference between Xavier and Ole Miss. 

BYU would have been a prime challenger to Xavier because of the way they hit 3s and pound the offensive boards, it's true. But with Ole Miss, the same arguments apply, only in lowercase. Mississippi's basic power rating is on par with several teams with higher seeds, like St. John's and Purdue, and better than a few, too, like LSU and Oregon. The big difference is that the Rebels lack BYU's outside shooting touch.

So here's a thought: If the play-in games have become the selection committee's last chance to reward deserving mid-majors or power conference teams with a dozen losses, maybe they'll just keep getting stocked with high-grade Killers. This season, 11 vs. 6 looks like the new 12 vs. 5.

March Madness reigned in Dayton, as 11th-seeded Ole Miss scored 62 second-half points to overcome a 17-point halftime deficit, rallying past 11th-seeded BYU 94-90 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Tuesday. 

The nation watched, and they reacted to largest second-half comeback since 2007. Here are some Ole Miss-BYU related links to local and national videos and stories, as well as a Tweet roundup:

VIDEO: First Four: Ole Miss stuns BYU via NCAA.com

VIDEO: Ole Miss Rebels' Kennedy, Moody on win over BYU via CBSSports.com

Ole Miss rallies from 17 down to beat BYU in superb First Four game, writes Matt Norlander from CBSSports.com

Ole Miss proves they belong in Big Dance, writes Austin Ward from ESPN.com

Ole Miss's epic comeback over BYU proves drama lives even in the First Four, writes David Gardner from Sports Illustrated

Ole Miss rallies from 17 down in second half to end BYU's season, writes Kyle Ringo from Yahoo! Sports

Ole Miss mounts comeback to down BYU in NCAA Tournament, writes Riley Blevins from The Clarion-Ledger

From brink of humiliation to sweet win, writes Hugh Kellenberger from The Clarion-Ledger

Rebels rally from huge deficit to advance, writes Parrish Alford from The Daily Journal

Rebels roar back to advance, writes Neal McCready from Rebel Grove/Rivals.com

Kennedy's credit, writes Ben Garrett from The Ole Miss Spirit/Scout.com

No Quit, writes Ben Garrett from The Ole Miss Spirit/Scout.com

Photo Gallery

Talking to members of the local media Sunday before leaving for Dayton on Monday, head coach Andy Kennedy and senior guard Jarvis Summers spoke of a familiarity with BYU, their First Four opponent, from watching the Cougars' 73-60 win at Gonzaga in their regular-season finale for both teams and their 91-75 loss to the same Bulldogs in the West Coast Conference Finals.

After a day of travel and preparation, Kennedy and his players went more in-depth on what to expect from BYU, which had won eight games in a row before that most recent loss to Gonzaga. The Cougars boast the nation's second-leading scoring offense at 83.6 points per game, led by senior guard Tyler Haws, the nation's third-leading scorer and the program's all-time leading scorer.

"It's more than him," said Kennedy of Haws to members of the media in Dayton. "He's awfully good. But it's more than him. Their style of play is such that they're going to put pressure on you really with four guys on the perimeter all night. Their pace of play is unlike any we've seen this season. They're truly committed to playing fast."

The next-highest scoring team that Ole Miss has faced this season has been Arkansas, which ranks 15th nationally averaging 78.0 points per game. 

However, when asked if BYU reminded them of any they had played, Kennedy and his players all said Vanderbilt, a team that shot 54.4 percent from the field and 13-for-23 from 3-point range in an 86-77 win over the Rebels in the regular-season finale for both teams in Oxford.

"We've used that comparison because we told them, like Vandy, if you leave them open, they're not like your teammates," Kennedy said. "They're going to make it. So in practice sometimes when we leave them open and the guys miss, we think it's good defense. No, it's not good defense; it's a bad shooter. When you play Vandy, and they're open, they're going to make it. 

"If you leave BYU open, they're going to make it. That's been proven over the course of 30-some odd games. We've got to be really locked-in understanding personnel."

As a team, BYU shoots 46.7 percent from the field and 38.8 percent from 3-point range, both of which are comparable to Vanderbilt, which shoots 47.1 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from 3-point range. 

The Cougars have four different players, including Haws, who have made 44 or more 3-point field goals and has shot 35 percent or better from behind the arc. Junior guard Chase Fischer leads the group in both 3-point field goals made (97) and 3-point field goal percentage (.411).

"We just have to work harder on running teams like that off the 3-point line," junior guard Stefan Moody said. "Just general mistakes that we made that we have to correct this time."

"We just have to man up and play defense hard and communicate and basically just be aggressive and make them score over the top of us," added Summers. "And like he said, just run them off at the 3-point line."

The men's basketball received a bid to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years. The women's basketball team learns its fate Monday. The football team was off for spring break, while the spring sports are in the middle of league action. Here are some thoughts and opinions on the week that was:

- As you know by now, Ole Miss was selected as a No. 11 seed and will play BYU, and should they win, they would play No. 6 seed Xavier in the Round of 64 on Thursday in Jacksonville, Florida. The other pairing in the four-team pod is No. 3 seed Baylor and No. 14 seed Georgia State.

- But in case you missed it, here's a Vine of the team's reaction after seeing they made the tournament (via TJ Werre)

- As Michael Thompson noted on Twitter, with an NCAA Tournament appearance in men's basketball, Ole Miss is the only school to have been to the College World Series, a New Year's Six bowl game and the NCAA Tournament in the last 10 months.

- Head coach Andy Kennedy, who had already accounted for half of the program's 20-win season, now accounts for one-fourth of the program's NCAA Tournament appearances.

- Ole Miss was the fourth-to-last team in the Field of 68, but despite their safeness relative to other teams closer to the cut line, they needed some help, and they got it throughout the conference tournament season, whether it was fellow bubble teams that lost or just one true "bid thief" that emerged.

"I have a dog, and when you clap your hands or raise your voice, the dog crazy, so needless to say, the dog was going crazy a lot on Saturday," said Kennedy of scoreboard-watching this past week.

- Historically, No. 11 seeds and First Four teams have made runs in the NCAA Tournament, none more memorable than Shaka Smart's 2011 Virginia Commonwealth team that reached the Final Four. Ole Miss has showed its capable of such a run, whether it was three top 50 RPI wins away from home, winning six games in a row or playing No. 1 overall seed and undefeated Kentucky to the wire, also away from home. I wrote more about the Rebels' capabilities and their opportunity here.

- Ole Miss is one of five SEC teams in the NCAA Tournament, the fifth-most among all conferences and the most for the conference since 2011, when the league also had five teams in the field. That relative strength of the SEC likely played an important role in getting the Rebels into the field.

- From the truth is stranger than fiction category: As a player, assistant coach and head coach for Valparaiso, Bryce Drew has participated in five NCAA Tournaments. Ole Miss has participated in four of those same five NCAA Tournaments, including the 2013 and 2015 editions.

- On first look, here are a couple of things that stand out about BYU. The Cougars rank second in the nation in scoring, averaging 83.6 points per game, the best among teams in the NCAA Tournament. BYU senior guard Tyler Haws, the school's all-time leading scorer, besting Jimmer Fredette, averages 21.9 points per game, third in the nation and second among players in the NCAA Tournament.

- Also noteworthy: In BYU's first and only other appearance in the First Four in Dayton, the Cougars completed the biggest comeback in NCAA Tournament history, defeating Iona 78-72 after trailing by 25 points in the game.

- Facing a pair of tough road series this past week, the baseball team split its midweek series at No. 8 Louisville and won one of three at No. 1 LSU over the weekend. The Rebels showed flashes of what they could be this season in the 5-3 win over the Tigers in 14 innings on Saturday night, in the SEC Network primetime slot.

- #FearTheStache was trending on Twitter at one point Saturday, as Sikes Orvis went 3-for-6 with two doubles and two RBI, the game-tying run in the ninth and the go-ahead in the 14th, later scoring an insurance run in the same half-inning. He also snagged a line drive for a game-saving double play in the 10th.

- It doesn't get any easier for Ole Miss, as the Rebels host No. 3 Florida in their first SEC home series of the season after a midweek home contest against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Wednesday. The first half of the SEC slate also includes a road series at No. 16 Arkansas and a home series against No. 5 Vanderbilt.

- The women's basketball team is expected to earn a berth in the Women's National Invitational, and if selected to host, the Rebels would play a first-round game on Thursday night. The announcement of the entire WNIT will come late on Monday night. It would be their first postseason appearance since 2009-10.

- Three Ole Miss athletes earned All-American honors at the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships, highlighted by Jalen Miller's bronze-medal finish in the men's 60 meters. Phillip Young (men's triple jump) and Brooke Feldmeier (women's 800 meters) joined Miller in earning All-American honors.

- The men's tennis team split its matches this past week, dropping a 4-1 decision to No. 2 Baylor and picking up a 4-1 win over Arkansas, improving to 2-1 in SEC play. Looking ahead, the Rebels play five matches in 10 days, including a home match against No. 18 Florida and a road match at No. 9 Texas A&M.

- The women's tennis team also split its matches this past week, moving to 3-3 in SEC with a loss to Alabama and a win over Auburn. Senior Julia Jones also moved one step closer to history, picking up her 95th career win.

Rebels Land NCAA Bid, 'New Life'

It took three days of scoreboard-watching and the reveal of the first 66 teams in the field on Selection Sunday, but for the second time in three years, Ole Miss is dancing.

The fourth-to-last team in the field, based on the NCAA Tournament seed list, the Rebels were selected as a No. 11 seed in the West Regional and will play fellow No. 11 seed BYU on Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio. Should they win, they would play No. 6 seed Xavier in the Round of 64 on Thursday in Jacksonville, Florida.

"We certainly took a circuitous route to get where we wanted to be, and it was certainly not one that I would have chosen, but ultimately we arrived at our destination," head coach Andy Kennedy said.

"I was surprised to see our name pop up there," senior guard Jarvis Summers said. "I felt like we could have had a better season, but we're thankful and blessed it worked out for us. We have to make something of it now." 

To that point, talking to long-time assistant coach Bill Armstrong, Kennedy said he was not sure there has ever been a team with an NCAA Tournament quite like theirs, having won 20 games in the regular season but having lost seven home games.

"Sometimes it's not so much what you do; it's what the people that you're competing against do," Kennedy said. "I feel like we have had teams that have had equally as strong resumes, but maybe the field was a little stronger, and we got pushed out. 

"This year, we certainly did not close as strongly as I would have hoped, but they talk about looking at your collective body of work. Oregon, having that late run, most especially getting to the conference tournament finals, helped us. The year that Cincinnati had helped us. Winning 11 games away from home helped us."

Teams that have been selected as a No. 11 seed have had some success in the NCAA Tournament, as have teams that have played in the NCAA First Four. Most notably, Virginia Commonwealth reached the Final Four as a No. 11 seed that played in the First Four in 2011. 

Last year, Dayton made a run to the Elite Eight as a No. 11 seed, while fellow No. 11 seed Tennessee, which also played in the First Four, won three games in a row to get to the Sweet 16. 

Two years ago, No. 13 seed La Salle also advanced to the Sweet 16, defeating Ole Miss in the Round of 32.

Ole Miss, Kennedy believes, has shown itself capable of making a run, and it's because of the body of work that was enough to get the Rebels into the Field of 68.

"We have had a formula by which we have shown ourselves to be very capable," Kennedy said. "We have won at Oregon, the only team other than Arizona to have done so. We have won and convincingly at Arkansas. Those are two good basketball teams. We played Kentucky to the wire. We have shown we're certainly capable. We have to stick to that formula."

A big part of that formula? Shooting at a 40 percent rate or higher, and it start with the big three of Stefan Moody, Summers and LaDarius White. The Rebels are 18-4 when they 40 percent or higher from the field, with one of those four losses coming at Dayton in UD Arena, where they will play BYU on Tuesday night.

"Moody has to make shots on Tuesday night," Kennedy said. "Jarvis has to make shots on Tuesday night. Snoop has to make shots on Tuesday night. Collectively, we have to finish around the rim on Tuesday. We have to rebound the ball. We are who we are, just like everybody in the tournament at this point. I'm happy for these guys that they stayed the course."

Ole Miss will learn its postseason fate later today, as the Field of 68 will be unveiled on the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship Selection Show at 5 p.m. CT on CBS. 

Since a heartbreaking loss to South Carolina in the second round of the SEC Tournament on Thursday, the Rebels have been relegated to scoreboard-watching, and for the most part, things have gone well.

Many fellow bubble teams lost and failed to lock up spots in the field, while only one true "bid thief," Wyoming in the Mountain West Conference, emerged, shrinking the bubble by just one spot. 

One more true "bid thief" remains, however, and it's defending national champion Connecticut, playing on its secondary home floor in Hartford against regular-season champion SMU in the American Athletic Conference tournament final at 2:15 p.m. CT on ESPN.

When bracketologists adjusted their brackets after the win by Wyoming, which burst the bubble of one of the last four teams in, Ole Miss remained among the last four teams in the field in ESPN's Joe Lunardi's, CBS Sports' Jerry Palm's and Syracuse.com's Patrick Stevens's latest brackets, while USA Today's Shelby Mast dropped them from the field.

"Wyoming winning the MWC steals a bid from someone... and that someone for me is Ole Miss," wrote Mast in his latest bracket projection. "I was torn between them, BYU and Boise St. it's very close but I think what the difference is for me - Boise St. is regular season champ for MWC and BYU won at Gonzaga. It's close for sure and I'm not comfortable with my decision, but, that's life on the bubble."

One possibility, as ESPN's John Gasaway notes, is the final spot in the field may come down to Indiana and Ole Miss, who have emerged as a "distinct class that has no other members." 

He looks at The Bracket Matrix, which compares 100 different projections of the NCAA Tournament field, and Indiana appears in 85 percent of brackets and Ole Miss appears in 80 percent of brackets, which would position the Rebels as the first team out of the field. The next-highest team is BYU, which appears in 90 percent of brackets, and the next-lowest team is UCLA, which appears in 19 percent of brackets.

The Bracket Matrix also measures how closely each bracketologist matched the work of the selection committee. The site itself correctly picked 67 of the 68 teams correctly last season, as did Lunardi, Mast and Palm, while Stevens correctly picked all 68 teams last season.

Selection Sunday sometimes features a surprise inclusion, and last year it was North Carolina State, which appeared in just three of 121 bracket projections collected by The Bracket Matrix. ESPN's Andy Katz suggested a possible candidate in his 3-point shot, where he made three bold predictions for Selection Sunday.

"In terms of the bubble, I'm going with the Miami Hurricanes getting in, and Ole Miss out," Katz said. "One of the things the selection committee will certainly look at will be your best win. Ole Miss has a win at Arkansas, certainly a good win. Miami won at Duke, a much better win. Miami comes in a little bit hotter than Ole Miss, which really struggled down the stretch. Certainly the way they lost that South Carolina game, it was a disheartening loss for Ole Miss, but that may be the reason they're on the outside looking in."

Rebels Await NCAA Tournament Fate

Ole Miss saw its stay in Nashville to come to an end in heartbreaking fashion, falling in the final moments to South Carolina 60-58 in the second round of the SEC Tournament Thursday. The Rebels, now 20-12 and ranked No. 55 in the latest NCAA RPI, will be scoreboard-watching, as they await to learn their postseason fate on Selection Sunday.

"We have now taken destiny out of our own hands, and so now we just have to wait and see what the other teams that are in the equation have done," head coach Andy Kennedy said.

Despite the loss to South Carolina, ESPN's Joe Lunardi, CBS Sports' Jerry Palm and USA Today's Shelby Mast all have Ole Miss among their last four teams in the NCAA Tournament field, which would mean a date in Dayton for the NCAA First Four for an opportunity to play their way into the Field of 64. 

Another bracketologist, Syracuse.com's Patrick Stevens, has the Rebels as his last team with an NCAA Tournament bye, placing them safely in the Field of 64 and avoiding Dayton.

South Carolina head coach Frank Martin, who has now played Ole Miss twice this season, shared their opinion, when asked if the Rebels are an NCAA Tournament team in his opinion.

"Our league is really, really good," Martin said. "Ole Miss better be in that tournament, and not only be in it, they better be in it with a good seed. I understand if you look at our record, you're probably going to sit there and say, Well, look at our body of work. We're a pretty good basketball team. And it's not like us beating them is any different than what happens in every other conference in America."

Members of the 2012-13 team that last made the NCAA Tournament, seniors Jarvis Summers and LaDarius White were less certainty, showing true honesty and candidness in their answers, when asked about if they had done enough to get into the NCAA Tournament.

"Honestly, I really can't say," said Summers, who completed a four-point play to briefly give the Rebels a 58-57 lead with 3.3 seconds left. "I really feel like we haven't because we haven't just, you know, played good this year, and it starts with me. I have had an up-and-down season and I just really put all this on me because on I'm the senior leader and I just didn't get it done."

"I really don't feel like we done enough, but if we do make it, I feel like we backed our way in," added White, who led the Rebels with 17 points.

As Stevens noted on Twitter, 76 Division I games remain between now and the bracket announcement on Sunday, some of which include fellow bubble teams and potential bid thieves, all of whom may have an impact on Ole Miss' precarious position on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

"The Rebels are now right on top of the cut line," wrote ESPN's Eamonn Brennan in his latest Bubble Watch. "Their road wins at Oregon and Arkansas remain impressive, and a neutral-court win over Cincinnati doesn't hurt. But this late slide has only magnified the bad losses on the other side of the nitty-gritty sheet, and ceded some uncertainty on what used to be very solid ground."

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Ole Miss returns to Nashville, the site of its 2013 SEC Tournament title, in much the similar position, perhaps in a more favorable position as it relates to an NCAA Tournament at-large bid.

Despite the loss to Vanderbilt in the regular-season finale, Ole Miss remains a team projected in the field, as a No. 10 seed in ESPN's Joe Lunardi's bracket, and as one of the last four teams in the field in CBS Sports' Jerry Palm's and USA Today's Shelby Mast's brackets.

At this time of year, it's easy to get caught up in all the numbers and bracket projections, but head coach Andy Kennedy and his team are focused on what they can control, which is their opponent-to-be in Thursday night's second-round game against No. 11 seed South Carolina.

"We have a veteran group," Kennedy said. "They have been through these conversations many times. My hope is that they will just focus on what the thing they can control and that's playing well Thursday night. We have a lot of good memories in this building, so hopefully we can conjure some of those back."

Seniors Jarvis Summers and LaDarius White played key roles on the 2012-13 team that made a run to the SEC Tournament title and an NCAA Tournament bid. 

Summers was the starting point guard, only to have his SEC Tournament run cut short due to a concussion he suffered in the quarterfinal against Missouri. When Summers went down, White stepped into the point guard role, starting both the semifinal against Vanderbilt and the final against Florida.

"We're really just taking it one game at a time," Summers said. "We don't really focused on the bubble or the tournament at all. We still have to play the SEC tournament. For me, I'm just trying to maximize the games and enjoy it while I can."

"I haven't been reading anything about the first four out or the last four in," White said. "My concern hasn't been on that. We're just taking it one game at a time."

Ole Miss has not only has its run in 2013 to draw from entering this year's tournament, but it also has its success away from Tad Smith Coliseum earlier this season. The Rebels have three RPI top 50 wins -- No. 22 Arkansas, No. 29 Oregon and No. 34 Cincinnati -- and they all came away from Tad Smith Coliseum

Their 11 wins away from home are the most since that same 2012-13 season, when they picked up 12 wins away from home, including three wins at the SEC Tournament. 

"We're very confident away from home," White said. "Very confident. That's where we play our best ball, I think. It's weird. I mean, I don't know. I can't explain that."

One possible explanation? They shoot the ball better away from Tad Smith Coliseum.

Ole Miss averages 75.1 points per game and shoots 46.5 percent from the floor and 38.5 percent from 3-point range in road and neutral-site games, compared to 71.2 points per game, 39.8 percent shooting from the floor and 30.3 percent 3-point shooting in home games.

"Maybe you do put more pressure on yourself at home," Kennedy said. "I think they'll come in here and play loose and free. I just hope we can make some shots."

The men's basketball team returns to the site of its 2013 SEC Tournament title, looking to punch its ticket to the NCAA Tournament. The women's basketball team awaits its postseason fate, the baseball team hits the road for its longest road trip of the season, during which they will play two top-15 teams, and the football team opened spring practice. Here are some thoughts and opinions on the week that was:

- The Ole Miss men's basketball team split its final week of the regular season, finishing with a 20-11 overall and 11-7 SEC record, tied for third place in the league standings. However, by virtue of a tiebreaker, the Rebels will be the No. 6 seed in the Nashville, where they await the winner of No. 11 seed South Carolina and No. 14 Missouri in the nightcap of Thursday's second-round games.

- With the win over Alabama on Tuesday night, Ole Miss picked up its 20th win of the season, the seventh 20-win season in nine seasons under head coach Andy Kennedy. The Rebels recorded just seven 20-win season in the 96 seasons before Kennedy's arrival.

- Against Vanderbilt, Ole Miss shot over 40 percent and committed just six turnover, but they were unable to overcome a hot shooting night from the Commodores. As a team, Vanderbilt shot 54.5 percent from the field and went 13-for-23 from 3-point range, tying its season high for 3-point field goals made.

"They put on a clinic," Kennedy said. "They've been shooting the ball well. They're as good a shooting team as we've faced maybe in the nine years here. Basketball is a game of rhythm. You have to disrupt theirs and establish yours. We didn't tonight. We were a step slow. We've been a step slow all year, and I've had to create defenses. We were moving slow, and they were making shots. We didn't have any answers." 

- Looking ahead, Ole Miss returns to Nashville, the site of its 2013 SEC Tournament title, and faces the same path this week, but with an additional second-round game against the winner of the South Carolina and Missouri matchup. Georgia awaits in a possible quarterfinal matchup, a team Ole Miss played in last year's quarterfinals.

- As far as the NCAA Tournament, despite the loss to Vanderbilt, Ole Miss remains a team projected in the field, as a No. 10 seed in ESPN's Joe Lunardi's bracket, and as one of the last four teams in the field in CBS Sports' Jerry Palm's and USA Today's Shelby Mast's brackets. Here's more from Palm, who had the Rebels among his teams "on the fence" in his latest Bubble Watch.

- Earlier in the week, after the win over Alabama, ESPN's Eamonn Brennan considered the Rebels a lock in his latest Bubble Watch, but after the loss to Vanderbilt, he rescinded that. Here's more from Brennan.

"I don't know what has transpired around the country, but our name has not been mentioned one time in any bubble conversation," Kennedy said. "It probably will now. We've probably put ourselves in a precarious situation where we need to look at what other people do."

- One of my favorite sports data and analytics sites, Team Rankings, projects Ole Miss as a No. 12 seed and gives the Rebels a 55 percent chance of making the NCAA Tournament. With one win in Nashville, Team Rankings gives them a 51.3 percent chance, and with two wins, it jumps up to 77.0 percent.

- Bid thieves shrink the NCAA Tournament bubble. And as Brennan noted in his latest Bubble Watch, they are most likely to come from high-major leagues this season. Bubble teams breathed a collective sigh of relief when Northern Iowa won the Missouri Valley Conference on Sunday, making it a two-bid league instead of a three-bid league. On a similar note, bubble teams would also probably like to see Gonzaga win the West Coast Conference automatic bid.

- After a strong end to the regular season, the Ole Miss women's basketball team fell short in a 72-61 loss to Arkansas in the second round of the SEC Women's Basketball Tournament. The Rebels, now 17-13 and likely Postseason WNIT bound, will learn their postseason fate on Monday, March 16. It would be their first postseason appearance since 2009-10.

- Here's a couple of great stories related to the Ole Miss pep band, which stepped in as a replacement to act as Kentucky's band, which was unable to make the trip to Little Rock for the SEC Women's Basketball Tournament due to inclement weather. For our story, click here. For the stories from The Clarion-Ledger and The Lexington Herald-Leader, click here and here.

- The Ole Miss baseball team claimed its third weekend series of the season, sweeping Saturday's doubleheader before dropping Sunday's series finale. The Rebels, now 8-6, face a pair of tough road series this week, a two-game midweek series at No. 11 Louisville, and a three-game weekend series at No. 2 LSU.

- The star of Saturday's doubleheader sweep was sophomore right-hander Brady Bramlett, who struck out a career-high 12 batters, joining some elite company in the process. His 12 strikeouts were four shy of tying the school record, the most in a game by an Ole Miss pitcher since Drew Pomeranz struck out 15 in a win over Georgia on April 9, 2010. It was also Bramlett's second digit strikeout game of the season, becoming the first Rebel to record multiple double-digit strikeouts games since Pomeranz, also in 2010.

"He's always fired up and ready to go," said junior left-hander Christian Trent of Bramlett. "I thought he was going to get the record two weeks ago. I thought he was going to get the record today. He was on pace for 27, but 12 is still impressive. I'm sure he will take 12."

- The No. 17-ranked Ole Miss women's tennis team swept the weekend, not dropping one singles or doubles match in 7-0 wins over Arkansas and Missouri. With the weekend sweep, the Rebels improved to 10-3 overall and 2-2 in the SEC. Senior Julia Jones, ranked No. 14 in the nation, won both of her singles matches, improving to 21-5 overall and 11-2 at No. 1 singles this season and picking up her 93rd and 94th career wins.

- The No. 9-ranked Ole Miss men's team dropped a 4-2 decision at Alabama, their first outdoor match in more than a month. Their other weekend match, a road contest at rival Mississippi State, was postponed and will be rescheduled for a later day. Next up is a marquee nonconference home match against No. 5 Baylor on Tuesday.

- The Ole Miss football team began spring practice Tuesday. Here Some storylines to follow, as the Rebels get into the heart of spring practice after Spring Break: The three-way quarterback battle, some position changes on defense and the return of Laquon Treadwell and Denzel Nkemdiche from injury. Check out some notes and quotes already on the blog and stay tuned to more coverage.

- NFL hopefuls Cody Prewitt, a projected second-round pick by CBSSports.com, and Senquez Golson, a projected fourth-round pick, continue to impress in pre-draft workouts, most recently at Ole Miss' Pro Day on Thursday. Three other hopefuls, Deterrian Shackelford, Carlos Thompson and Deterrian Shackelford also made some impressions. For more, check out my recap of Pro Day.

- Ole Miss played a couple of tribute videos before Saturday's home men's basketball game against Vanderbilt. Here's one to Tad Smith Coliseum, and here's another to graduating seniors Jarvis Summers and LaDarius White, two Mississippi natives and the first members of their respective immediate families to graduate from college.

With the Rebels' 82-74 win at Alabama on Tuesday night, Ole Miss has posted 20 wins for the seventh time in nine seasons under head coach Andy Kennedy. The Rebels recorded just seven 20-win campaigns in the 96 seasons before Kennedy's arrival.

Also, with the win over Alabama, Ole Miss positioned itself to earn the No. 3 seed in the Southeastern Conference tournament with a win over Vanderbilt on Saturday. But the Rebels could also finish fourth, fifth or sixth with a loss, depending on other outcomes in the league.

The No. 3 seed would not only mean a double-bye into the quarterfinals, but it would also place Ole Miss on the opposite side of the bracket from top seed and undefeated Kentucky.

"It was a huge game," said senior guard LaDarius White after the win over Alabama. "It was important and we needed this game."

As far as the NCAA Tournament, the win over Alabama kept Ole Miss around the No. 9 and No. 10 seed lines, depending on the bracket projection, and according to ESPN.com's Eamonn Brennan, the win also locked up an NCAA Tournament bid.

"Either way, both teams are straddling the No. 8/9 seed lines at this late date," said Brennan of Georgia and Ole Miss in his latest Bubble Watch. "For either to miss the tournament, they'd have to drop two straight this weekend and next, and somehow have the dozen-or-so teams between them and the cut line pass them in the next nine days. Not going to happen."

That being said, the Rebels, now No. 44 in the latest NCAA RPI, can eliminate any doubt about their NCAA Tournament hopes and perhaps play their way up a seed line or two, between now and Selection Sunday, starting with a win over Vanderbilt on Saturday. 

There's not much reward playing the Commodores, ranked No. 102 in the RPI, but they have won four in a row and seven of their last nine games, dating back to the start of February.

"We get one more win, we have a secure seed in the NCAA tournament," sophomore forward Sebastian Saiz said. "That was the goal this season -- to get to the NCAA tournament and do well in it." 

Senior Send-Off for Five Rebels

Ole Miss will also honor its five seniors, three fourth-year seniors in Aaron Jones, Jarvis Summers and LaDarius White and two graduate seniors in M.J. Rhett and Terence Smith.

Jones, Summers and White have been a part of three of Kennedy's six 20-win seasons, including Summers who is the SEC active leader in points (1,587), assists (507), minutes (3,762) and wins (83). 

"It's Senior Night, so it's got to be the most important game for those guys who are leaving Ole Miss," Saiz said. "I expect them to come out with a lot of energy and show everybody they have been thankful for their time at Ole Miss."

Summers and White showed signs of a return to form in the win over Alabama, while Jones provided a spark with 10 points on 5-for-8 shooting, to go along with five rebounds, in 21 minutes off the bench.

Summers showed the decision-making that made him an All-SEC type player, dishing out seven assists compared to zero turnovers 32 minutes of action, while White exploded for 19 points on 7-for-9 shooting, including 4-for-5 from 3-point range. For White, it was his first double-digit scoring game since scoring 16 points in a win over Florida on Feb. 12.

"Snoop has struggled in the last two or three weeks," said Kennedy of White. "He has not shot the ball well. For him to go seven-of-nine, four-for-five from three, huge, huge effort for him. My hope is that it will give him the confidence that he needs to finish this thing strong."

The numbers and bracket projections may not be in his favor at this point, but head women's basketball coach Matt Insell is selling the NCAA Tournament selection committee on his team passing the eye test, as Ole Miss enters its regular-season finale on the road at intrastate rival Mississippi State.

Ole Miss has won three in a row for the second time in Southeastern Conference play this season, highlighted by a win over No. 13 Kentucky this past Monday, but the Rebels have only seen a moderate bump in their RPI, up to No. 96 in the latest rankings released by the NCAA.

In the latest bracket projection from ESPN's Charlie Creme, released on Monday, not including Thursday's SEC games, the league had seven teams in the field, with Georgia as one of the "Next Four Out" and Ole Miss not among the teams considered.

"We're sitting here at 17-11 and 7-8 (in SEC play), and I'm looking at these bracketology things, and this is an NCAA Tournament team," Insell said. "The problem here is our RPI is not very high. I hope the selection committee, as they look at it, they will watch the eye test of Ole Miss. 

"You look at Arkansas and Ole Miss, and the bracketologists say Arkansas is in as a 10-seed, and we beat them beat them by 14 points at our place in the head-to-head contest, and we're going to end up with basically the same record."

Ole Miss enter Sunday's matchup at Mississippi State, ranked No. 27 in the RPI, with a 5-11 record against the RPI Top 100, including a 2-7 mark against the RPI top 50, with wins over Kentucky (No. 12) and Arkansas (No. 45).

One of the marks against the Rebels' resume, along with their RPI, however, is their nonconference schedule. The slate included three RPI top 100 opponents, two in the RPI top 58, but it also included nine RPI sub-200 opponents. They won all nine of those games, but playing the games themselves work against their overall resume.

"I have never seen an 8-8 team not get in, but what they'll come back and say our RPI and our out-of-conference schedule wasn't the greatest," Insell said. "We had a young team with eight newcomers. If we would have gone out and played one of the best schedules in the country, we wouldn't be sitting here because we would have killed their confidence before we even got going."

With a win at Mississippi State, Ole Miss would not only add a resume win, a win that would be the Rebels' best road win of the season, but it would also lock them into the No. 7 seed at next week's SEC Tournament in Little Rock, Arkansas, where they might still need to pick up a win, maybe two, to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

"We need to get to 8-8 and we need to win one in the SEC Tournament," Insell said. "If we do that, I think there's no chance we're not in. If we slip up and don't do that, you put in the committee's hands. This team is fighting to get in the tournament."

Kennedy, Rebels Look to Flush LSU Loss

BATON ROUGE, La. -- With an opportunity to perhaps lock itself into the NCAA Tournament, or at the very least enhance its resume, Ole Miss lost back-to-back games for the first time all season, falling on the road at LSU on Saturday afternoon after dropping a home contest against Georgia on Wednesday night.

The Rebels used a 12-0 run to take a 26-15 lead with 5:57 left in the first half. The Tigers cut the lead to 27-23 going into halftime and opened the second half on a 13-2 run to take a 36-29 lead with 15:14 left. 

Ole Miss got to within four on three separate occasions, but they were unable to string enough plays together on both ends of the court to get any closer the rest of the way in a 73-63 loss in Baton Rouge.

"We knew coming in, from a length and talent standpoint, that if this game was pretty, it was not going to be good for the Rebels," head coach Andy Kennedy said. "We needed to make it ugly and dirty it up. In the first half, we did a good job of that, keeping them off-balance and not letting them for us with second-chance points, but the margin shouldn't have been four. We should have been up eight, nine, 10, 11, but we didn't close the half very well."

"In the second half, when you have opportunities on the road, you better take advantage of them. We didn't; they did."

Stefan Moody led the Rebels with 15 points, but he was just 3-for-17 from the field and 1-for-7 from 3-point range. Along with Jarvis Summers and LaDarius White, the Ole Miss big three combined for just 25 points on 7-for-29 shooting.

"We have been in a lot of close games," Kennedy said. "Tonight notwithstanding, we have been very competitive in almost every game, a possession here or possession there, and it's really been the timeliness of Stefan Moody. It's not as if Jarvis and Snoop don't have their moments, but we have struggled in a number of regards with manufacturing offense."

Entering Saturday, Ole Miss was 17-3 in games in which it shot 40 percent of better from the field, with the only losses coming to Dayton, Kentucky and Georgia, all road games, and three games decided by a combined 12 points.

The Rebels did not reach that benchmark, as they shot 38.3 percent from the field, including 4-for-14 from 3-point range, and 13-for-21 from the free throw line, and they committed 17 turnovers, their most in a game since committing 18 in a road win at Arkansas on Jan. 17.

"Why is that?," said Kennedy, referring to the benchmark. "It's because we make free throws at a high rate and we don't turn it over. Today, we shoot under 40 percent, we didn't make three throws, and we turned it over."

Ole Miss, now 19-10 overall and 10-6 entered Saturday as the No. 3 seed in the SEC Tournament and a No. 8 or No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and with the loss to LSU, they fall to the No. 6 seed in the SEC Tournament and will likely see a fall in their seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The last two losses, notwithstanding, Ole Miss remains 8-7 against the RPI top 100, including a 3-5 mark against the RPI top 50, with wins over No. 20 Arkansas, No. 31 Texas A&M and No. 39 Oregon. 

When the new bracket projections come out, the Rebels will likely see their name in the field, although closer to the close line, going into their final two regular-season games on the road at Alabama on Tuesday and then back home against Vanderbilt next Saturday. 

"They're disappointed," Kennedy said. "It's the first time all year we have lost games in a row. They're disappointed. It took me a little bit longer (in the locker room) because now I'm playing psychologist, and the reality is we didn't play well today. We lost against a good LSU team. We have to flush it. We have a Tuesday swing and we have to get ready and close strong in Week 9 (of SEC play)."

QUOTABLE: "You have to be honest, but at the same time, there's not going to be a drill we can do tomorrow to change some of the things we do. We are who we are. Guys who are struggling know they're struggling. I'm a big believer in owning it. Let's own it and let's try to figure out how to fix it. I have played this game and I have coached this game now for number of years. You fix it by seeing the ball go in the basket. You don't allow the negative to weight you down. Your self-talk has to positive. It's easier said than done, when things aren't going well, and you have to man up and close strong. That's what we're going to do." - Andy Kennedy

Despite the most recent home loss to Georgia on Wednesday night, Ole Miss remains a team projected to be solidly in the field, as the Rebels put their school record four-game SEC road winning streak on the line when they travel to LSU on Saturday.

Ole Miss, 10-3 in games away from Tad Smith Coliseum and 8-6 against the RPI top 100, Oregon, looks to bolster its NCAA Tournament resume with a road win at LSU, ranked No. 55 in the latest NCAA RPI.

"We better play better," head coach Andy Kennedy said. "We better play like we're playing for our NCAA Tournament lives because we are. We have to play with a hunger and a desire. I don't think it was an energy thing (against Georgia). Our energy was fine. You have to make some plays. When you get hit with contact, you have to go through it. When you have an open 3 off a ball reversal, you have to step up and make it. That's what NCAA Tournament teams do."

Georgia made those plays, while Ole Miss did not in the Rebels' loss earlier this week. The same was true in the Rebels' loss to LSU earlier this season. 

The Ole Miss big three -- Stefan Moody, Jarvis Summers and LaDarius White -- were a combined 14-for-45 from the floor, while the LSU duo of Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey each recorded double-doubles, and Keith Hornsby led all scorers with 21 points on 6-for-13 shooting, including 5-for-10 from 3-point range.

Martin and Mickey average a combined 33.0 points and 19.1 rebounds per game, with both ranked among the top four players in the league in both categories. Mickey also leads the league in blocked shots (3.7/game), while Hornsby ranks fifth in the league in 3-pointers made (2.0/game), shooting 37.5 percent from behind the arc.

"We'll battle," said Kennedy of Martin and Mickey. "We have to put bodies on bodies. They're big, fast and strong. They're a handful for everybody. We'll have a chance to try to game-plan and do the best we can to put our guys in position to be successful."

Coming into Saturday's matchup, Ole Miss, ranked No. 45 in the latest NCAA RPI, is a No. 8 seed in the latest brackets from ESPN's Joe Lunardi and CBS Sports' Jerry Palm and a No. 9 seed in the latest bracket from USA Today's Shelby Mast, while LSU is a No. 9 seed in Palm and Mast's brackets and a No. 10 seed in Lunardi's bracket.

Here's more on the Ole Miss-LSU matchup from CBS Sports' Chip Patterson in this week's Viewer's Guide:

The SEC schedule has not given tournament hopefuls like Ole Miss and LSU too many opportunities for quality wins. The winner gets a resume boost while the loser might sweat a little more on Selection Sunday.

Here's more on Ole Miss and LSU from ESPN's Eamonn Brenann in the latest Bubble Watch:

There's little reason to worry about the Rebels, even after this week's home loss to Georgia -- that's the kind of defeat you can manage when you've built this kind of good-if-not-great at-large case. That said, it doesn't get easier for Ole Miss in the next week. Saturday brings a trip to LSU and Tuesday involves a trip to Alabama. Ole Miss is in good shape right now, but two straight losses would introduce some measure of suspense in the last weeks before Selection Sunday.

The Tigers' past two weeks have been a success. Since narrowly falling to Kentucky in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Feb. 10, Johnny Jones' team is 3-1 with wins over Tennessee, Florida and Auburn. That may not get your blood pumping, but it's a more successful run than many fellow bubble teams have made in the same span, hence LSU's slight move off the cut line and into the bracket. With Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey, the Tigers have NBA talent at two front-line positions, and they're playing top-20 efficiency defense nationally. They finish with Ole Miss and Tennessee at home before a trip to Arkansas next Saturday. They're trending in the right direction.

Ole Miss closes out a three-game stretch in which they will have faced three consecutive ranked opponents when they welcome No. 18 Mississippi State on Thursday night. The Rebels are 1-1 through the first two games of the stretch, having defeated No. 18 Georgia and lost to No. 11 Texas A&M.

Short-term, the goal is to get to 2-1 over the three-game stretch. Long-term, the goal is eight Southeastern Conference wins, which would position Ole Miss (14-5, 4-2 SEC) well for a possible NCAA Tournament bid.

"It's a huge opportunity for us to continue to build a resume for the NCAA Tournament," head coach Matt Insell said. "How you build that resume is you beat top-20 teams, and we have a chance to beat another one here on our home court. That would be a huge win for us, a huge win our program and a huge win for where we want to go at the end of this year.

As it stands right now, Ole Miss boasts RPI Top 50 wins over Georgia (No. 35) and Arkansas (No. 49) and has another opportunity in Mississippi State (19-2, 4-2 SEC), which is ranked No. 41 in the latest NCAA RPI rankings. The Rebels were among the "Next Four Out" in Charlie Creme's latest ESPN Bracketology, which was released Monday.

"They know each game is important," said Insell of his team. "This game is very important because it's a resume-building game for our team in terms of the NCAA Tournament. It's a game where you can put in on your resume that you beat another top-20 team and you did in the span of a week. This is a chance for them to build their resume to get to where they want to get."

Similar to when the schools met in football this past fall, it's been historic, and by some accounts, unexpected seasons for both women's basketball programs. Ole Miss, picked last in the SEC preseason coaches' pool, is off to its best overall start since the 2009-10 season, while Mississippi State, picked 8th in the same poll, is off to its best overall start in program history.

"When the season started, I don't think people thought Ole Miss and Mississippi State would be 4-2 in SEC play when they meet here in the third week in January," Insell said. "I don't think people thought we would be 14-5 and they would be 18-2. It's two teams that are trying to change the landscape of women's basketball in this state and let people know that there's really good women's basketball in the state of Mississippi. I'm happy that we're a part of that."

Ole Miss has already notched its first win over an AP-ranked team, the program's first since the 2010-11 season, and they played two more to within single-digits, both on the road, against No. 11 Kentucky and No. 11 Texas A&M, so there's no sneaking up on anyone, as the Rebels enter the heart of SEC play in contention for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since the 2006-07 season.

"I told them that it gets even tougher now, and we have to know that," Insell said. "It's going to get tougher, so we have to step it up even more, and we have to continue doing that. There's no sneaking up on anyone. We're here. We're inside the house. People see us, and they know we're here. And now we have to learn how to play when we're here."

The goal from day one for head coach Steven McRoberts was to lead Ole Miss to its fourth NCAA Tournament appearance and its first since 2010. 

Entering the team's final two matches, McRoberts said he felt as though they were on the outside looking in to the NCAA Tournament. With a 3-0 win Wednesday over Georgia, the Rebels kept their NCAA Tournament hopes alive.

"We know that potentially these are the last few days we have of the season, and the girls have been doing a great job," McRoberts said. "The only thing we can do is win, and then we put it in the hands of the committee. We don't really have any control of whether we get an NCAA bid. If we win Friday, we put ourselves at least in the conversation. 

"It's been hard not to hang our hat on that, because if we didn't win tonight, then Friday doesn't matter. I was really proud of the team that we didn't look ahead. It was one of our cleanest and best matches tonight as we're going into Friday, and that will give us a lot of confidence."

Ole Miss improved to 22-9 overall and 8-9 in Southeastern Conference play, ahead of its regular-season finale against Texas A&M, which enters the match 20-8 overall and 12-5 in SEC play. 

The match presents a top-25 RPI opportunity for Ole Miss, ranked No. 63 in the NCAA's official RPI rankings, as they welcome a Texas A&M team ranked No. 19 in the NCAA RPI. In their earlier meeting this season in College Station, the Rebels took the first set before the Aggies rallied to win the match 3-1.

"We need Friday," said McRoberts, when asked about his team's resume. "There are two or three matches that are kind of haunting us right now, that if we had those and if we were sitting at 25 wins, instead of 22, I would feel really good that we're going to get in. 

"I feel like we have put ourselves in a situation. It's not a high-pressure situation. We have told the team, 'Let's come out, play well and give ourselves an opportunity.' Hopefully, that translates into playing another week."

Playing in a match on the last day of the regular season with possible NCAA Tournament implications, McRoberts said, makes good on his original goal, at least in part.

"I'm really pleased with where we are at as a program," McRoberts said. "I'm pleased that we're going into our last match, and we're still talking about the NCAA Tournament. Going to the NCAA Tournament was the goal from the beginning. 

"From where they came last year, a realistic statement would be, if we were talking about the NCAA Tournament, it's a success. I like the fact that we have two days left in the regular season, and we're still saying what if. That's a nice thing."

Here's a brief look at the NCAA Tournament resume for Ole Miss:

22-9 Overall | 8-9 SEC (7th)

RPI: 63

Record against RPI top 25: 0-4

Record against RPI top 50: 2-5 (wins over Alabama 2x)

Record against RPI top 100: 4-6 (wins over Memphis, Arkansas State, Alabama 2x)

Road Record: 5-6

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