BOZICH: Why The Ole Miss Game Is Kentucky's Super Bowl - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH: Why The Ole Miss Game Is Kentucky's Super Bowl

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Kentucky needs a win over Ole Miss and Marshall Henderson for its NCAA Tournament resume. Kentucky needs a win over Ole Miss and Marshall Henderson for its NCAA Tournament resume.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – John Calipari loves to say that whenever Kentucky goes on the road it's the Super Bowl/Mardi Gras/New Year's Eve for the opposing team.

I'm going to flip the script on Calipari this week. Kentucky visits Oxford to play Mississippi Tuesday. This game is Kentucky's 2013 Super Bowl.

The explanation is not tricky: Kentucky needs a quality win away from Rupp Arena more than the Wildcats need another five-star recruit. Calipari's team (13-6) doesn't have one, unless you're giving UK bonus points for defeating Maryland.

I'm not. The Terps have a losing ACC record (3-4).

That leaves Kentucky with two final at-bats to earn a quality road win. One is at Florida Feb. 12. Considering how Billy Donovan's team has punished its first six SEC opponents (average winning margin 26 ½ points) and that Ken Pomeroy's analytics give UK a 6 percent win probability that night, I wouldn't count on a celebration in the Swamp.

Scratch Gainesville. Make your push in Oxford, where Pomeroy's model likes the Rebels by three but gives UK a 39 percent win probability.

Make no mistake, beating Mississippi would be a quality win. The Rebels (17-2, 6-0 in the SEC) have climbed to 16th in both the Associated Press writers' and USA Today coaches' polls. Pomeroy ranks Andy Kennedy's team 26th. They're 31st in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) and 24th in Jeff Sagarin's ratings.

In other words, Ole Miss is an NCAA Tournament team right now. Kentucky has work to do. This would be work – significant work.

Understand that perceptions are difficult to break in SEC basketball. When Kennedy appeared on the coaches' teleconference Monday, he was asked about this being a ‘statement game,' for the Rebels.  Although Kentucky needs to make an equally emphatic statement, Calipari was not asked what a victory would say about his young and inconsistent team.

"Here, we're always going to keep the hunter mentality," Kennedy said. "We really haven't done anything …

"For us, it's just about trying to take advantage of opportunities. It's the reason that we've been on the outside looking in for more times than I'd like to remember because we just have not taken advantage of the opportunities that this league presents. Tuesday night, again, you've got Kentucky in your building, the most storied program in all of college basketball. Our guys will be excited about that. Now hopefully we play well."

Kennedy gets it. His team has been rejected more than George Costanza. A year ago Ole Miss owned 20 wins on selection Sunday, including a victory over Alabama. No NCAA Tournament bid. In 2011, Ole Miss was rejected after another 20-win season. In 2010, the Rebels won 21 in the regular season. Never mind.

The Rebels don't get the close calls. This is their Tuesday night prime time TV moment. Kentucky-Ole Miss is the game of the night in college basketball.

This game is monstrous for Mississippi, one reason it sold out a week ago. This is the first time the Rebels have started 6-0 in the SEC. They've only won seven straight SEC games once.

On Monday afternoon, only three tickets were available on StubHub.com, the cheapest at $189.99. It's a big deal. Ole Miss has big goals – and a big scorer with a big personality in transfer Marshall Henderson, the SEC's leading scorer.

Calipari gets it, too. He understands that the Ole Miss of 2013 is not the Ole Miss of 2012 or 2011 or 2010.

"I've watched our game with them last year and they were good last year," Calipari said.  "We were really good. They were really good. We didn't get away from them until one stretch in the second half...

"They're a veteran team, everybody's back, got a couple additions that make them better."

The Rebels are better. This game is important for Mississippi's national credibility. But it's just as critical for Kentucky's NCAA Tournament credibility. The Wildcats need a win with some fiber away from Rupp Arena. This is their chance.

Copyright 2013 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved. 

 

 

 

 

 

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