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
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
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
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
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.