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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 Ole Miss women's basketball team heads to the 2015 SEC Tournament in Little Rock, Arkansas, having won three of its last four games to finish the regular season with a 17-12 overall and 7-9 SEC record and earn the No. 8 seed in the tournament.

The Rebels are a near-lock for the Postseason WNIT, which would be the program's first postseason appearance since the 2009-10 season, but they will likely need to some damage this week to strengthen their case for the NCAA Tournament, starting with No. 9 seed Arkansas on Thursday.

"I feel like we're 100 percent in the NIT," head coach Matt Insell said. "We're going to have to win two games, at least, to solidify ourselves as having a chance to maybe be on the bubble and be in the NCAA Tournament. Beating Arkansas and then coming back and beating South Carolina, I think, would put us in, with South Carolina being the No. 1 seed (in the SEC Tournament). We know that, but Arkansas is our main focus."

Insell pointed to his team's wins over Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky and LSU, four teams ranked in the top 70 of the latest NCAA RPI and three teams projected to be in the tournament. The team not projected in the tournament, Georgia, was at full strength with a 15-2 overall and 3-1 SEC record, when Ole Miss met them earlier in the season.

Insell also noted the Rebels' SEC schedule, which featured two games each against Kentucky, LSU and Mississippi State, three of the top six teams in the league. Despite that schedule, they finished tied for seventh in the league standing.

The numbers, however, are working against them, including a No. 96 ranking in the RPI.

"If you're one of the better teams in this league, you deserve to have a chance to be in the tournament, but the computers say we're not in, and I guess we're going by the computers, and I'm going to keep saying that," Insell said.

ESPN.com Bracketologist Charlie Creme said the NCAA Selection Committee weighs many factors in their selection process, such as RPI and strength of schedule, as well as records against the RPI top 25, RPI top 50 and RPI top 100, among others, and those categories create the discussion points.

"The RPI is by no means everything, but it is how the committee groups teams," said Creme in an email. "At 96 at this point, they wouldn't seriously enter the discussion. No team has ever made it as an at-large with an RPI outside the 70's (and the 70's is even rare). 

"The wins over UK and LSU would be where the committee would start with Ole Miss, but there isn't much else to discuss. Ole Miss isn't currently in my "Next Four" out, which puts them over eight spots away. The takeaway is Ole Miss has to win the automatic berth."

Senior forward Tia Faleru, a first team All-SEC selection, drew on the experience of the 2012-13 Ole Miss men's basketball team, when asked about the NCAA Tournament. That season, the Rebels entered the SEC Tournament in Nashville on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, likely also needing to win at least a couple of games, and they went on to win the automatic berth, eliminating any doubt of them getting in the NCAA Tournament.

"Nobody thought they were going to win it," Faleru said. "They got on a little roll and got all the the way to the championship. Nobody expected them to beat Florida that year either. I remember that like it was yesterday. They won it all, and we were here supporting them. I want to experience the same feeling. Do something impossible. We can do the same thing. It's no pressure on us. The pressure is on everybody else. We're the team no one wants to play."

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

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Amid regional host and national seed discussion, 10th-ranked and second-seeded Ole Miss opens Southeastern Conference Tournament play Wednesday against seventh-seeded Arkansas. The Rebels are squarely on the national seed bubble after finishing the regular season 40-16 overall and 19-11 in SEC play.

Ole Miss will start junior right-hander Chris Ellis Wednesday against Arkansas, followed by sophomore left-hander Christian Trent on Thursday against third-seeded LSU or sixth-seeded Vanderbilt. 

Ellis enters Wednesday with a 9-0 record and 2.12 earned run average with 52 strikeouts and 28 walks in 89.0 innings. He has also posted six consecutive quality starts, including a win over Arkansas on May 2.

"It definitely wouldn't hurt to win a couple of games," senior catcher Will Allen said. "Obviously, we're not going to go down there and not try to win. As long as we're playing baseball, we're going to do the best we can. If we play well and do what we can and make a run in the tournament that would definitely help. It's up in the air, and we'll see."

With a series win at Texas A&M, Ole Miss moved up two spots to No. 13 in this week's official RPI rankings. Fellow SEC national seed contenders Vanderbilt, which Ole Miss might face in an SEC Tournament matchup Thursday, and South Carolina are ranked Nos. 6 and 8, respectively.

"You can't control what they do or how they're playing, but as long as keep playing well, we'll make a run at a national seed," senior third baseman Austin Anderson said. "All we can do is play well and win. If you start looking at that, you get distracted from what we're trying to do. Although it would be great to be a national seed and host a Super Regional, as long we keep winning, it doesn't matter where we play, we'll make it to Omaha."

For Allen and Anderson, they have achieved two team goals for the first time in their four-year careers: win 40 games and claim an SEC Western Division Championship. Other goals, however, remain ahead of them, as they want to finish strong and leave their legacy, individually and as a team.

"It's something we have been focused on the whole year," said Allen of the national seed talk. "One of our goals is to host a Regional and host a Super Regional. You have to take it game-by-game and really focus on the task at hand. Right now, we have the SEC Tournament. It would be really cool win an SEC Championship. None of us here now have done that, so we would love to do that."


Rebels Rolling Entering Hoover

Ole Miss left Tuscaloosa with a 4-5 record in SEC play, having just been swept at Alabama and having lost two of three at South Carolina two weekends previously.

From there, the Rebels have gone 15-6 in SEC play, including four straight series wins to end the regular season. The 21-game stretch also included weekend sweeps of Auburn and Kentucky and just one series loss, at home against LSU.

"Last year, we had a pretty good year, but we seemed to be dying out at the end and lost two of three at LSU," Anderson said. "At Hoover, we won our first game and then lost the next two. It seems like the team is playing well and we have a lot of confidence going into the postseason."

The Rebels have also shown an ability to bounce back this season. Ole Miss is 10-5 after losses, including a 7-1 mark since the 4-5 start in SEC play. They look to continue the trend coming off a 9-6 loss at Texas A&M in the regular season finale.

"Throughout the year, we have lost some close games," Allen said. "It seems like the next game we bounce back. I don't know the record off the top of my head, but it seems like after the games we have lost and the next game we play, we get right back on track. That's huge. To not really go through too many peaks and valleys but just consistently play, we have been able to do that this year."


Allen Wins Regular-Season Batting Title

Will Allen won the SEC regular-season batting title, with a .359 average, edging Kentucky's A.J. Reed by percentage points. He surged to the league lead, going 6-for-12 for the weekend series at Texas A&M. He also ended the regular season ranked second in RBI (55), second in hits (80) and seventh in home runs.

Allen has started all 56 games, including 50 at catcher, after serving primarily as the DH as a junior. He credits two years of maturity and strength and conditioning to coach Ben Fleming, for his ability to maintain his weight and remain consistent throughout the season.

"We lift two times a week and try to maintain my weight," Allen said. "A couple of years ago, I lost quite a bit of weight. I am making sure I stay between 225-230 pounds. I do a lot of stretching on my own before practice. I'm more mature with taking care of myself and making it a priority."

Robinson, Woodman Lift Rebels Late

Freshmen Errol Robinson and J.B. Woodman have been on a tear since the start of the Kentucky series. Robinson has raised his average from .285 to .310, hitting at a .375 clip, while Woodman has raised his average from .280 to .336, hitting at a .435 clip.

Woodman earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors for his role in helping Ole Miss clinch the SEC West. He drove in the game-tying run in Thursday night's win at Texas A&M and then drove in the game-tying run and scored the game-winning run in Friday's win at Texas A&M.

"The freshmen have had a big impact," Anderson said. "Errol, JB and Colby (Bortles), and Wyatt Short out of the bullpen, have had great years. Even as an older guy, when you see a freshman player with that confidence, it makes it a lot easier for us to feed off of that. Our whole team feeds off one another."


Ole Miss clinched the SEC Western Championship and locked up the second overall seed in the SEC Tournament as the Rebels won two of three games at Texas A&M this past weekend. With the series win, Ole Miss finished the regular season 40-16 overall and 19-11 in SEC play and moved up two spots in week's official RPI rankings, from No. 15 to No. 13.

Fellow SEC national seed contenders Vanderbilt and South Carolina are Nos. 6 and 8, respectively. Other national seed contenders of note are Louisiana-Lafayette (7), Miami (FL) (12) and TCU (14).

As far as the RPI top 25 and top 50, there are a couple of Ole Miss opponents to watch entering conference tournament play this week. Kentucky and Alabama each fell three spots to Nos. 22 and 24, respectively. Arkansas and UCF each moved more solidly into the RPI top 50 to Nos. 41 and 46, respectively, while Georgia fell 10 spots to No. 55. 

The Rebels will open SEC Tournament play with either No. 7 seed Arkansas (No. 41 RPI) or No. 10 seed Texas A&M (No. 33) on Wednesday, followed by No. 3 seed LSU (No. 16), No. 6 seed Vanderbilt (No. 6) or No. 11 seed Tennessee (No. 45) on Thursday.

Perfect Game's Kendall Rogers had Ole Miss among his eight national seeds, while Baseball America's Aaron Fitt had Vanderbilt replacing Ole Miss as a national seed in last week's projections. After Ole Miss' series win over Texas A&M, Rogers still had the Rebels in as the eighth and final national seed with South Carolina and TCU, among other teams also in the mix for a national seed.

Here's a brief look at the NCAA Tournament resume and remaining schedule for Ole Miss, as well as the NCAA Tournament resumes for Florida, LSU and South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

Ole Miss Rebels

40-16 Overall | 19-11 SEC (2nd)

RPI: 12

Strength of Schedule (Warren Nolan): 22

Record against RPI top 25: 5-7

Record against RPI top 50: 14-11

Record against RPI top 100: 21-14

Road Record: 15-7

Florida Gators

37-19 Overall | 21-9 SEC (1st)

RPI: 2

Strength of Schedule (Warren Nolan): 1

Record against RPI top 25: 14-7

Record against RPI top 50: 22-13

Record against RPI top 100: 29-17

Road Record: 12-8

LSU Tigers

40-14-1 Overall | 17-11-1 SEC (3rd)

RPI: 16

Strength of Schedule (Warren Nolan): 45

Record against RPI top 25: 4-8

Record against RPI top 50: 12-12

Record against RPI top 100: 18-12-1

Road Record: 10-9

South Carolina Gamecocks

42-14 Overall | 18-12 SEC (t-4th)

RPI: 8

Strength of Schedule (Warren Nolan): 34

Record against RPI top 25: 8-7

Record against RPI top 50: 12-9

Record against RPI top 100: 23-12

Road Record: 8-9

Vanderbilt Commodores

40-16 Overall | 17-13 SEC (6th)

RPI: 6

Strength of Schedule (Warren Nolan): 4

Record against RPI top 25: 8-6

Record against RPI top 50: 18-14

Record against RPI top 100: 24-15

Road Record: 13-7

Chadwick: 'We Control Our Destiny'

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One spot in the ITA national rankings can make all the difference. 

Last season, San Diego, ranked No. 44 in the country, earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, while crosstown rival, San Diego State, ranked No. 45, was the highest ranked team left out of the 64-team field.

Ranked No. 53 in the country and likely needing a win over No. 10 Texas A&M to keep their postseason chances alive, Ole Miss played its most complete match of the season to knock off the Aggies 4-3 in legendary head coach Billy Chadwick's last SEC home match.

After the win, as well as a doubleheader sweep of Alcorn State, the Rebels moved up 10 spots to No. 43 in the country, ahead of Thursday's SEC Tournament match against No. 18 Tennessee in Nashville. In the first meeting in Knoxville, Ole Miss won 4-1 behind wins at Nos. 2, 4, 5 and 6 singles.

"If they were making the choice today, we might get in; we might not," Chadwick said. "We're ranked No. 43 in the country and traditionally they take 43 or 44 teams, in addition to the automatic bids that are ranked lower. We're walking the tightrope on it. We need to help ourselves and beat Tennessee."

Coaches often times talk about sense of urgency, such as men's basketball head coach Andy Kennedy referring to the team's 2013 NCAA Tournament run. For Chadwick, it's no different, led by the team's lone senior in Johan Backstrom and two-time All-American Nik Scholtz.

"You could see that when we played Texas A&M," Chadwick said. "They really played with a sense of urgency. We know that right now we control our destiny, and if we want to make the NCAA's, we take care of Tennessee."

"We believe we can do it," Scholtz said. "Making the tournament is another thing that's motivating us at this stage in the year. It's good to know that you're definitely in (the discussion), but the fact that we don't know if we're in the tournament is great motivation."

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Ole Miss meets Mississippi State for the third time this season, with a berth in SEC Tournament quarterfinals and a matchup with No. 3 seed Georgia on the line. It is just their second meeting in the SEC Tournament with the Bulldogs winning 73-64 in 2003.

No. 14 seed Mississippi State advanced to the second round with an 82-68 win over No. 11 seed Vanderbilt on Wednesday. The Bulldogs shot a season-best 59 percent from the field, as they snapped a 13-game losing streak.

"Once we set foot on the court, we have a shot," said Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray after Wednesday's win. "But more so than anything, I think that what happens is everybody focuses in on one player on their team. People don't understand how good Jarvis Summers is. He's a really good basketball player. Sometimes you get so caught up in Marshall Henderson and guard him off the cuts and screening action, that you allow Jarvis Summers to go one-on-and. And when you allow him to go one-on-one, he's a really good player."

"It will feel great to get to see them one more time," said Mississippi State sophomore guard Craig Sword, who led four Bulldogs in double figures with a game-high 20 points against Vanderbilt. "But we're going to take thing one game at a time. We're going to come in tomorrow focused and locked in."

In their first meeting, without senior guard Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss fell to Mississippi State 76-72 on the road in Starkville. In their second meeting, Ole Miss avenged its earlier loss with an 82-63 win in Oxford led by 19 points each from Henderson and junior guard Jarvis Summers.

In addition to the return of Henderson, the Rebels' leading scorer, another big difference in the two meetings was the play of Sword, the Bulldogs' leading scorer. Sword had 15 points, all at the free throw line, in the first meeting, while Ole Miss held him to just four points in the second meeting. 

"Obviously, if State wins tonight and we have the opportunity to play them, then, you know, it would be their Super Bowl in that they could go ahead and put us out of our misery," said head coach Andy Kennedy in Wednesday's pre-tournament press conference. "I think that whoever we play, simply because we have played them both twice and we are very familiar with them, we know what we have to do. We just have to go out and perform."

Highlights from Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy's time on the SEC teleconference Monday as well as selected questions and answers from Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray, Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings and Georgia head coach Mark Fox.

Ole Miss is the No. 6 seed in this week's 2014 SEC Tournament in Atlanta and will play the winner of 11-seed Vanderbilt and 14-seed Mississippi State in the second round Thursday (approximately 8:25 p.m. CT, SEC TV/ESPN3). The winner of Thursday's game will play 3-seed Georgia in the quarterfinals Friday (approximately 8:25 p.m. CT, SEC TV/ESPN3).

Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy

Opening statement:

We're excited about heading to Atlanta and competing in the SEC Tournament coming off a hard-fought win, which will hopefully give our guys some life moving forward.

On Arkansas' big loss at Alabama: 

We're all living on a slippery slope. We played about as poorly as I have ever seen a team play from our vantage point against a team that played about as well as they could possibly play in Arkansas, and then both scripts got flipped. All I saw was the final score. 

I was not surprised so much that Alabama won because Alabama is a good basketball team and it's hard to win on the road, but when I saw the score I was surprised because of how well Arkansas had been playing, and then as poorly as we played, we were able to bounce back and grind out a hard home win. It speaks to my theory, where I don't believe in game-to-game momentum; I believe in in-game momentum. Each game has a life in and of itself, and you have to prepared as such.

On making a run in the SEC Tournament:

Most everyone, especially when you have a lot on the line, you hope that your players would go into with a sense of urgency that the next loss could be your last game. We have one senior, and I know he will be playing with a sense of urgency. When you have a number of different guys who have that sense of urgency, you make plays and special things can happen. 

We were certainly a part of that last year. I had three prominent members of our team, who were seniors, and they were playing with that senior sense of urgency, and we were able to get a last-second win in game one. We had a feeling of relief but also excitement about the potential that the next day held, and that's what you can experience sometimes in tournament play.

On balancing the routine with the excitement of playing in the SEC Tournament:

Heading not the tournament, you try to keep your routine the same. We have been doing this now for a number of months, and you try to stay on the same routine. Once you get into that tournament setting, there's always electricity in that building. The SEC does an outstanding job of creating an electric atmosphere. Guy gets excited about that, and if you can get through that first game, guys are really on edge as it relates to the opportunity that's in front of them.

On Georgia's play through the SEC regular season:

Mark (Fox) and his staff did an outstanding job of getting that team to understand who they were. They were 6-6 in the non-league and when you do that, not many people gave them much hope of moving up in the standings once they got into league play. They looked in the mirror and made the necessary adjustments as to who they were and their best chance to be successful, and they maximized that by having an outstanding run in our league. 

They're playing as well as anybody with a hard-fought win at LSU in the last game. They're playing with momentum and a lot of confidence. They'll be in their home state, and there will be a lot of Bulldogs in the building. Last year, we came into the tournament in a similar mode, where we were tied for second and we got the third seed via a tiebreaker, and then we were able to make our run. Georgia is in a great position.

On the team's mindset entering the SEC Tournament:

I'm like most every coach. We split the season into a number of different quarters going back to our high school days. Now we're in the fourth quarter. This is the postseason. This is the epitome of March Madness, which created this mindset that anything can happen. We lived that last year when we were able to go and have a magical run. That's still fresh on the thoughts of our players' minds. We realized that the task is going to be a daunting one, but at the same time, all coaches try to turn the page and say we're all starting here anew. There's a lot to play for heading into Atlanta.

Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray

Opening statement:

We're getting ready for a well-coached Vanderbilt team. Coach Stallings does about as good a job as anybody in the nation of exploiting some of your weakness, both on the offensive end and defensive end. On the offensive end, for them, they do a great job of running a lot of set plays. When you're playing Vanderbilt, you have to make sure that you rely on your principles more so than just guarding their set because they do a lot of sets, but more importantly they have counters to those sets to exploit anything that you're doing as far as the way you're guarding the basketball.

In the first game against them, Damian Jones got in early foul trouble. He has a world of potential, and he's going to be a really good player in the SEC. Having him available on the court to give them an inside presence, along with their outside shooters and scorers will be a problem for us.

On the team mindset entering the SEC Tournament:

The one thing that we're trying to focus on, because we're playing Vanderbilt, and we played a good game against them. It was a closely contested ball game. We had a couple of chances to cut it to two points under two minutes, and we missed point-blank layups and a couple of tips. You could show them that you had some success against Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt, so that's one thing that always helps. The second thing is that we went into the SEC Tournament last year, and it was the first time that we had won a game in the SEC Tournament since 2008 as a program. You try to point to those positive things because the negatives are very obvious.

On the team's depth:

It's a problem. I don't think you can sit here and say that we're on an even playing field with everybody else. Our first year we were playing with six and seven scholarship guys, and this year we played the whole season with seven and eight scholarship guys. There are two things we don't have. We never had the competition for playing time. Any program needs that. The second thing is that I have never had our best teacher, which is the bench. You need that to have that competitive fire in your program all the time. Our guys continue to play hard. Everybody has their bumps and bruises at this point in time. It's more mentally fatigued than physically fatigued. Our guys have to pull it together for the stretch run.

Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings

Opening statement:

First of all, I would like to congratulate Coach Donovan and the Florida Gator basketball team on their championship. Going 18-0 in our league is an incredible accomplishment, so I congratulate them on a job more than well done. Our team is coming off of two very close games, difficult, similar-type losses from last week. 

We're thankful for the opportunity to play again. Those were two frustrating losses for us last week, but we're hopeful that we can get to Atlanta and play the way we have been playing defensively and maybe play better on offense. Our defense has been good enough in our recent games except for one to really give us a chance to win games, and our offense has not been what we need it to be, so hopefully we can do some things this week can get that rectified and play better offensively and maintain the defensive intensity that we have shown the last few weeks. 

On making a run in the SEC Tournament:

It tends to happen just in the games. You can start to get the feeling in a game. If you win one, maybe you get on a little bit of a roll. There has never been anything that I have sensed going into the tournament when we have done well or when we have done poorly. It's more of thing where you get there, you win a game and then you get a feeling, see some confidence and start playing well, and the confidence gets contagious and it carries you through the weekend. I have never sensed anything in the prior couple days going into the tournament. 

When you win, you gain confidence and momentum is built. In 2004, I remember when we beat Mississippi State, which was league champion that year, in overtime and that was a tremendous situation for us because they had just won the league. That catapulted us not only in that tournament, but that gave us momentum going into the NCAA Tournament as well. That's the kind of thing I'm talking about, winning a big game, winning a tough game, winning a close game, and it continues to provide you momentum.

Georgia head coach Mark Fox

Opening statement:

Our team is excited about the tournament. We're really excited that it's in Atlanta and just down the road for us, so hopefully we will have some support from our fan base there in Atlanta. Our kids are really excited about the tournament, and it should be a great week of basketball in the Georgia Dome.

On this year's team:

Normally, you compare most things in the life to the first time you maybe did something, so I compare of my teams to my first team, which I thought was really a group of overachievers and a team that was picked fourth in the league that won the league and won an NCAA Tournament game and was a joy to coach. Every year, I often compare the team I'm coaching to that group because it was my first one and it was one of my favorite teams. 

This team has been just as much fun to coach. These guys have been a real joy, and I look forward to seeing them every day. They enjoy each other. Throughout the season, whether it is success or failure, they have tried to use things to grow as people and grow as a team. From that standpoint, it's been a process that we have all enjoyed.

On the locker room after the win over LSU:

It was typical. The kids were certainly excited. They had a sense of accomplishment for winning the game because LSU is a good team, and it was a good win. It was typical of a scene after a conference road win. It was not more than that. When you win a road game in this league, it's very hard to do, and so they were excited like they would be for most conference road victories.

On the coach's control of team chemistry:

Coaches do their best to manage the personality of the group, but the one thing that you can't control -- and you can in some instances as you recruit -- is the quality of character. You really have to have people that have great character to strive and achieve, and sometimes you can't control that. You don't know exactly -- even though there is some communication in recruiting -- until you go to battle with someone how they're wired. Fortunately, we have a really good chemistry and some really good character on our team that has allowed us to continue to grow.

On the team entering conference play:

That was a tough time. We had played George Washington in our last nonconference game, and I learned right before that game that my dad was about to pass, and so right before conference play started, I was away from the team for a day or two. I don't know if at that time we had a grasp on what we could accomplish. From day one this year, we felt like we could have a good team. Even though Kentavious left, and we knew there would be some growing pains getting used to his absence, they didn't waver from thinking we could have a good team. It just took a little while to figure out how to do that.

On NCAA Tournament standing entering SEC Tournament:

For the first time, yesterday, since I didn't know whom we would be playing, I took a minute to look at it. I don't know if we will have to win it, but it sure takes the stress out of it if you could do. We would have to advance. To have a legitimate at-large chance, we would have to advance. If you advance, you might as well win it.


AUDIO: SEC WBB Teleconference 3.3

Audio of Ole Miss head coach Matt Insell's time on the SEC teleconference Monday as well as audio of Arkansas head coach Tom Collen and Auburn head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy.

Ole Miss is the No. 14 seed in this week's 2014 SEC Tournament in Duluth, Ga., and will open tournament action against 11-seed Arkansas in the first round Wednesday (7:30 p.m. CT, Fox Sports South/SportSouth). The winner of Wednesday's game will play 6-seed Auburn in the second round Thursday.

Ole Miss head coach Matt Insell

Arkansas head coach Tom Collen

Auburn head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy

No. 6 Ole Miss (37-21, 15-15 SEC) vs. No. 7 Alabama (33-25, 14-15 SEC)

May 23 | 9:30 a.m. | Hoover, Ala. | SportSouth/ESPN3

UM Fr. RHP Jacob Waguespack (0-1, 2.89 ERA) vs. UA So. RHP Spencer Turnbull (4-3, 3.61 ERA)


Ole Miss NCAA Tournament resume:


Overall Record: 37-21

SEC Record/Finish: 15-15/6th

RPI (Warren Nolan): 18

Strength of Schedule: 8

Record vs Top 50 RPI: 13-17

Record vs. 51-100 RPI: 5-2

Record vs. 100+ RPI: 19-2


Ole Miss NCAA Tournament projection:


Mark Etheridge, SEBaseball.com (May 22): No. 2 seed in Louisville Regional

Kendall Rogers, Perfect Game (May 20): No. 2 seed in Clemson Regional

Bianco in SEC Tournament elimination games: Head coach Mike Bianco has advanced to 11 SEC Tournaments in his 13-year tenure at Ole Miss. He is 9-9 all-time in SEC Tournament elimination games, including a 4-1 win against Kentucky on Tuesday. With a 1-1 record this year, he is 20-19 all-time in SEC Tournament games.


Rebels sweep in regular season: Ole Miss and Alabama met for a three-game series in Oxford with the Rebels winning all three games. 


Bobby Wahl and Aaron Greenwood combined for a two-hit shutout in game one, as Ole Miss won 6-0. The Rebels clinched the series with a 5-2 win in game two, then Tanner Mathis delivered a bases-loaded single in the 11th to sweep the series with a 4-3 win in the series finale.


Waguespack to make second career start: Freshman right-hander Jacob Waguespack will start for Ole Miss against Alabama. The 6-foot-6, 215-pounder from Prairieville, La., dealt with an elbow injury for much of the season and made his season debut April 16 against Southern Miss.


Waguespack has made five appearances, including one start, and allowed four runs -- three earned -- on seven hits with three walks and three strikeouts in 9.1 innings. In his one start, he took the loss against Southern Miss, as he gave up two run on four hits in three innings.


Another turn for Mississippi native Turnbull: Jacob Waguespack will be opposed on the mound by Spencer Turnbull, a sophomore right-hander from Madison, Miss. 


Earlier this year, he took a no-decision in a 4-3 loss to Ole Miss, as he allowed two runs on six hits with four walks and two strikeouts in six innings. He pitched in relief against the Rebels in 2012 and took the loss, as he allowed four runs on four hits a strikeout in 0.2 innings.


This season, the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder is second on the team with 13 starts and 77.1 innings pitched this season. He holds a 4-3 record with a 3.61 ERA, .295 B/AVG, 1.46 WHIP and 41-to-30 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Turnbull has also thrown two complete games this season, including a four-hit shutout against Auburn.


Bianco, on availability of Bobby Wahl: "Bobby threw a little bit off the mound today. He could probably throw tomorrow in an emergency. It's not health-wise. We got to be careful with him. We want to do what's right for him and for the program. And as much as we want to have success here, we're going to have to win the following day as well, so somebody else has to pitch. 


"We've really pushed him over the last couple of weeks, as far as short rest and throwing one inning on Friday, then coming back on Sunday, then coming back on two days' short rest. I think we got to get closer to what his normal routine is."


Bianco, on 10 different ineups over last 13 games: "Part of it, I think is trying to find the right matchup... The top five have been pretty solid the last few games with Mathis, Anderson, and then Turner, Mistone, Boz... You just try to find the right matchup for that pitcher that day."


Ole Miss Lineup (career vs. UA SO RHP Spencer Turnbull)


LF Tanner Mathis (1-for-2, 2B, BB)

SS Austin Anderson (1-for-2)

C Stuart Turner (0-for-1, 2 BB)

3B Andrew Mistone (1-for-3)

CF Auston Bousfield (2-for-3, BB)

DH Sikes Orvis (0-for-2)

1B Preston Overbey (2-for-3)

2B Christian Helsel (0-for-0)

RF Will Jamison (1-for-2)


Alabama Lineup (season batting average)


3B Kenny Roberts (.251)

CF Georgie Salem (.272)

2B Kyle Overstreet (.279)

RF Ben Moore (.289)

SS Mikey White (.278)

1B Austen Smith (.277)

C Brett Booth (.283)

LF Andrew Miller (.237)

DH Chance Vincent (.214)



Another Quality Start For Smith

Behind Bobby Wahl and Mike Mayers, sophomore right-hander Sam Smith has quietly put together a stellar season in his own right. The regular third starter in the weekend rotation, the Lake Charles, La., native is 3-0 with a 3.11 ERA and 1.38 WHIP.


"I have always thought I had the potential to go out there and pitch in the SEC," Smith said. "That's why I came here. I just hadn't showed it yet. I think I have done that."


Smith took a no-decision in Wednesday's 4-1 loss to Arkansas, but he continued his success on the mound, giving up just one run on six hits with a walk and four strikeouts in six innings. In the third, he retired three batters in order after back-to-back singles to start the inning, then pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth.


"My defense helped me out a lot," Smith said. "Andrew Mistone made some really good plays. It helped a lot I was able to fill up the zone with all my pitches. I got my slider in the second or third inning. That was a good pitch for me. I was able to locate that well. I was able to keep them off balance, and that was big for me."


His six innings of work tied a career high, most recently against Mississippi State, in which he picked up his third win of the season. He gave up three runs -- one earned -- on eight hits with two strikeouts, as Ole Miss won 10-8.


"I was getting pretty tired, but I was still able to throw all my pitches for strikes," Smith said of pitching six innings. "I think as long as I could do that, I was fine. I felt OK."


Over his last seven starts, dating back to April 14 against Alabama, Smith has allowed just 10 runs, eight of which were earned, in 35 innings.


"Coach (Carl) Lafferty has worked a lot with me in the bullpen," Smith said. "We have been working on a lot of things. My defense has really what has given me the most confidence. I'm not scared to go after people and let them hit the ball because they have made some great plays for me."


Smith said he feels like he has been pitching about the same, just doing a better job throwing pitches for strikes and keeping the ball down. He also credited Wahl and Mayers, and their approach on the mound. 


"Those guys compete harder than anyone I have ever seen," Smith said of Wahl and Mayers. "I try to model my competitiveness after them. They're fun to watch. I think a lot of what I need to work on was runners in scoring position, two outs and making big pitches to get out of the inning. I think I have been doing a better of job of that."


No. 6 Ole Miss (37-20, 15-15 SEC) vs. No. 3 Arkansas (35-19, 18-11 SEC)

May 22 | 9:30 a.m. | Hoover, Ala. | Comcast Sports Southeast/ESPN3

UM So. RHP Sam Smith (3-0, 3.28 ERA) vs. UA Jr. RHP Barrett Astin (4-4, 2.02 ERA)


Ole Miss NCAA Tournament resume:


Overall Record: 37-20

SEC Record/Finish: 15-15/6th

RPI: 18

Strength of Schedule: 9

Record vs Top 50 RPI: 13-16 (includes Tuesday's 4-1 win against Kentucky)

Record vs. 51-100 RPI: 5-2

Record vs. 100+ RPI: 19-2


Ole Miss NCAA Tournament projection:


Mark Etheridge, SEBaseball.com (May 19): No. 2 seed in Louisville Regional

Kendall Rogers, Perfect Game (May 20): No. 2 seed in Clemson Regional


Smith looks for repeat performance: Sophomore right-hander Sam Smith gets the nod for Ole Miss against Arkansas. Head coach Mike Bianco said Tuesday that Smith threw short work before the game against Kentucky. 


It will be his second career start against the Razorbacks, as he took a no-decision in a 6-4 win against Arkansas in 13 innings earlier this season. He allowed one run on three hits with a walk and strikeout in five innings.


The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder remains unbeaten with a 3-0 record to go along with a 3.28 ERA, .281 B/AVG, 1.40 WHIP and 29-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In his last six starts, he has allowed nine runs, seven of which were earned, in 29 innings.


Like junior right-hander Mike Mayers on Tuesday, Smith will be pitching on four days' rest, having pitched 3.1 innings against LSU this past Friday, giving up two runs on four hits with three strikeouts and two walks, as Ole Miss lost 5-4.


Astin settles into starter role: Sam Smith will be opposed on the mound by junior right-hander Barrett Astin for Arkansas. In his last outing, a start against Auburn this past Thursday, he took the loss, as he allowed three runs on nine hits with a walk and seven strikeouts in 6.1 innings.


"He threw Thursday (against Auburn)," Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said Monday. "He's probably, obviously, our freshest starter. Give him about five days rest."


The 6-foot-1, 200-punder has pitched in 16 games, including 12 as a starter, and holds a 4-4 record with a 2.02 ERA, .246 B/AVG, 1.18 WHIP and 56-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He has bounced between the weekend rotation and bullpen, settling into the rotation where he has made nine starts. In those starts, he has allowed 15 runs, 12 of which were earned, in 45.2 innings.


He pitched in relief in a 6-4 loss to Ole Miss in 13 innings earlier this season, as he allowed one run on four hits with a strikeout. He also made a relief apperance against the Rebels in 2012, and two relief appearances in 2011.


The Arkansas pitching staff leads the nation with a team ERA of 1.90. The bullpen is a combined 10-7 with 17 saves and a 1.76 ERA


Ole Miss Lineup (career vs. UA JR RHP Barrett Astin)


LF Tanner Mathis (0-for-3)

3B Andrew Mistone (0-for-2)

SS Austin Anderson (0-for-4)

C Stuart Turner (0-for-1)

CF Auston Bousfield (0-for-2)

1B Sikes Orvis (2-for-2)

2B Preston Overbey (1-for-1)

RF Will Jamison (0-for-1, HBP)

DH Will Allen (1-for-2, BB)


Arkansas Lineup (career vs. UM SO RHP  Sam Smith)


DH Joe Serrano (1-for-2)

CF Matt Vinson (1-for-2)

LF Brian Anderson (0-for-2)

1B Dominic Ficociello (0-for-0)

RF Tyler Spoon (0-for-2)

3B Jacob Mahan (0-for-3)

2B Jordan Farris (0-for-0)

SS Brett McAfee (0-for-1)

C Jean Ramirez (0-for-0)

WHAT HAPPENED VS. KENTUCKY: On four days' rest, junior right-hander Mike Mayers pitched a gem, giving up one run (unearned) on six hits with two walks and seven strikeouts in 6.1 innings of work, as No. 6 seed Ole Miss won its SEC Tournament opener 4-1 against No. 11 seed Kentucky.


"On short rest, the talking point after the game is how terrific Mike Mayers was," head coach Mike Bianco said. "I don't know if we have another guy who can do what Mike just did. It probably worked out better than we imagine; he was terrific today."


Kentucky threatened in the top of seventh, loading the bases, but junior left-hander Jeremy Massie got out of the inning with an infield fly popup and a groundout. In all, Massie allowed one hit with one walk in 1.2 scoreless innings.


"Jeremy Massie came in with a tough position with the tying run at the plate," Bianco said. "They get a swinging bunt, but he was super composed and gets the pop up and ground ball to get out of (the 7th inning)."


Offensively, the Ole Miss offense pounded out 11 hits, including four doubles, as eight of the nine starters recorded hits during the game. The top four in the order were 4-of-14 with two doubles and two RBI. The Rebels scored a run in the first and third, then two in the sixth.


"It was nice to watch guys continue to swing after coming off the last two games at LSU where we swung it pretty well," Bianco said.


Ole Miss advances to play No. 3 seed Arkansas tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. CT. The game will be televised on CSS and will be streamed online on ESPN3.


MAYERS ON SHORT REST: Mike Mayers made his second-straight start on four days' rest after throwing 105 pitches in a 7-1 loss to LSU this past Thursday and 94 pitches in a 3-0 win against Mississippi State the previous Saturday.


"I felt fine," Mayers said. "I think people make a bigger deal on short rest. You grew up, and nobody ever cared about rest. In the big leagues, you throw 200-plus innings. I stayed on the same routine I have been on the last two weeks. 


"It was one of those days. My fastball command was there. I really pride myself on fastball command and pitch off of that. When my fast ball command is there, coach Mike Bianco does the rest, and Stu(art) Turner does a great job behind the plate."


PITCHING PLAN GOING FORWARD: Mike Bianco did not announce a starter for Wednesday's game against Arkansas. He Bianco said on Monday junior right-hander Bobby Wahl won't start Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, but may work out of the bullpen.


"We'll have to see," Bianco said of the pitching plan. "We'll go back. (Sam) Smith threw a little short work today. We'll talk to Coach Lafferty and see how that went prior to the game and look at that. There are some things running through our head, and how we are going to use Bobby this week.


"It has more to do with health and setting up for next week, and remaining sure you can win the next game."


ANOTHER FAMILIAR FOE IN ARKANSAS: Ole Miss and Arkansas met in a three-game series in March in Fayetteville with the Rebels winning two of three to open Southeastern Conference play. Ole Miss won the series opener 7-1, then Arkansas evened the series with a 10-1 win in game two. In the series finale, Ole Miss won 6-4 in 13 innings.


"I thought we got them at a good time," Bianco said of the earlier series against Arkansas. "(Ryne) Stanek wasn't pitching as well. Dominic (Ficociello), he was playing in the series, but certainly hurt. It was good timing on our part. 


"You don't finish third in this league unless you're very, very good. Of course, they're outstanding on the mound. They have one of the best pitching staffs in the country, so it will be a good challenge for our offense."


Ole Miss also played Arkansas in last year's SEC Tournament, where it won 2-0 and eliminated the Razorbacks.


ASTIN TO START FOR ARKANSAS: Junior right-hander Barrett Astin will get the start for Arkansas. In his last outing, a start against Auburn this past Thursday, he took the loss, as he allowed three runs on nine hits with a walk and seven strikeouts in 6.1 innings.


"He threw Thursday," Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. "He's probably, obviously, our freshest starter. Give him about five days rest."


He pitched 2.2 innings of relief against Ole Miss earlier this year, giving up one run on four hits with a strikeout. The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder enters Wednesday's contest with a 4-4 record to go along with a 2.02 ERA, .254 B/AVG, 1.22 WHIP and 63-to-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio.


Ole Miss (36-20, 15-15 SEC) vs. UK SR LHP Jerad Grundy (6-5, 4.75 ERA)

1. LF Tanner Mathis (0-for-7, 3 BB)
2, SS Austin Anderson (2-for-6)
3. C Stuart Turner (2-for-3, HR, 2 BB)
4. 3B Andrew Mistone (5-for-9, 3 2B, 3B)
5. CF Auston Bousfield (1-for-7, 2 BB)
6. RF Preston Overbey (3-for-8) 
7. 1B Sikes Orvis (0-for-1)
8. DH Will Allen (2-for-8, BB)
9. 2B Christian Helsel (1-for-4)

Kentucky (30-24, 11-19 SEC) vs. UM JR RHP Mike Mayers (4-5, 3.21 ERA)

1. RF Kyle Barrett (1-for-5)
2. LF Zac Zellers (2-for-6, 2B, 2 BB)
3. 1B A.J. Reed (3-for-7, HR)
4. CF Austin Cousino (1-for-8)
5. 2B J.T. Riddle (0-for-7)
6. 3B Max Kuhn (1-for-4)
7. SS Matt Reida (1-for-6, 2 BB)
8. DH Paul McConkey (0-for-3)
9. C Michael Thomas (0-for-0)
1

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