McCready: 10 Weekend Thoughts, presented by Harry Alexander
1. Ole Miss needed two wins last week. Period. The Rebels had to beat Texas A&M and Georgia to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
The Rebels did just that, taking care of business against the Aggies on Wednesday in Oxford and then again versus the Bulldogs on Saturday in Athens. The game against Texas A&M, with the exception of the last six minutes, wasn’t a great look for the Rebels. On Saturday, however, Ole Miss did a lot of really good things in a blowout of Tom Crean and Co.
To avoid being repetitive, here’s my 10 observations piece from Saturday afternoon.
I thought there was a lot for Ole Miss to be encouraged by from its performance in Athens. Terence Davis had a ho-hum game by his standards and Ole Miss rolled on the road anyway. Blake Hinson made 3-pointers and looked confident shooting them. Devontae Shuler looks like he’s close to returning to his pre-injury form.
Look, Georgia isn’t a good basketball team, but the Bulldogs jumped up 18-8 early and that would’ve rattled lesser teams. Ole Miss just stayed the course, played defense, ran offense and never lost even a shred of its composure.
It was a very strong performance, the kind perfectly capping a week a team determined to make the NCAA Tournament but coming off three difficult weeks had to have.
By going 2-0 last week, Ole Miss put itself in position to…
2. It’s a free shot Wednesday at Auburn. Coaches, likely including Kermit Davis, bristle at terms such as “free shot,” but Ole Miss has one on Wednesday night at Auburn Arena.
The Rebels are No. 36 in the college basketball NET as of Sunday. Auburn is No. 20. A win at Auburn would be the Rebels’ most impressive win of the season in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee. A loss to the Tigers, especially given the fact that Ole Miss already beat the Tigers in Oxford last month, won’t hurt a bit.
On Saturday afternoon, Ole Miss entertains Missouri. The Tigers have a No. 91 NET ranking. In other words, it’s a must-win game for the Rebels.
In case you’re wondering, here are the NET rankings for SEC clubs as of Sunday:
Mississippi State 29
Ole Miss 36
Texas A&M 87
South Carolina 99
3. Speaking of the bubble, man, oh man, it’s soft.
For Ole Miss, that’s good news. If you’re like me, first, I’m sorry. Second, if you’re like me, you view the bubble as the NET from 31-60. It’s chock full of teams with weird resumes. Ole Miss’ resume is, in comparison, pretty solid. The Rebels have non-SEC wins over Baylor (NET: 34), San Diego (100), ULM (153) and Illinois State (179). Their strength of schedule is No. 64 nationally, and with Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee still on the slate, it will likely go up a bit.
The Rebels’ non-league losses are all fine. Ole Miss lost at Butler (53), on a neutral site to Cincinnati (24) and to Iowa State (16). In short, the resume is fine.
The bubble, as I have it defined is full of Power 5 teams much like Ole Miss. It also includes Utah State (39), VCU (44), UNC-Greensboro (45), UCF (46), Saint Mary’s (50), Hoftstra (51), San Francisco (52), Toledo (54), Temple (56), Furman (57), New Mexico State (59) and Belmont (60).
4. So, is the bubble 9-9 soft or 10-8 soft? Former Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy and former Kentucky star Antoine Walker addressed that topic on Saturday. Walker felt that any SEC team that got to 9-9 in the league was getting into the NCAA Tournament. Kennedy felt Ole Miss likely needed to get to 10-8 in the league to feel no pressure when it left for Nashville and the SEC Tournament next month.
Here’s why I agree with Kennedy, at the risk of that alliance being used against me (again): Let’s say Ole Miss goes 9-9 in the league, just for kicks. That would likely mean the Rebels beat Missouri Saturday, Georgia in Oxford later this month and then at Missouri early next month. That’s nine SEC wins. That means the Rebels would have lost at Auburn, at South Carolina, at Arkansas and at home to Kentucky and Tennessee. The loss at South Carolina (again, NET of 99) would be a resume eyesore. So let’s say that scenario played out and Ole Miss then lost on the Thursday of the SEC tournament to Alabama, Florida, Mississippi State or Arkansas. Do you really feel good about an NCAA Tournament at-large bid in that scenario?
On the flip side, I went into the season thinking Ole Miss needed 11 SEC wins to get into the dance. I now think 10 is enough. Ten wins means two wins over Missouri, another win over Georgia and a win at South Carolina or Arkansas. I think that would be enough. Throw in a win over Auburn, Tennessee or Kentucky and it’s all a formality.
Now, before all these words are used against me (again), let me say this: I love the NCAA Tournament. It’s cool. It’s fun. There is access and the desperation of it makes for intriguing basketball. Plus, if I’m covering NCAA Tournament basketball, I’m not standing in 40-degree weather covering spring football (no offense to spring football intended). I don’t get to cover it unless Ole Miss makes it, so if it’s up to me, I’d just as soon the Rebels make the field.
I just don’t think 9-9 in the league will get it done. That’s not me being anti-Ole Miss or out to get the program. It’s just an opinion. (Sorry for all the caveats; I've learned they're needed on this beat.)
5. It’s time for my weekly ranking of the SEC.
1. Tennessee — The Vols play Kentucky Saturday. It should be fascinating basketball.
2. Kentucky — I’m really tempted to put the Wildcats No. 1, but they looked vulnerable at times on Saturday in Starkville.
3. LSU — So, so talented.
4. Auburn — Call me crazy, but I thought about putting Ole Miss here. The Rebels can make a major statement on Wednesday.
5. Mississippi State — If the season goes south in Starkville, Mississippi State will look back on the past week and reflect.
6. Ole Miss — Breein Tyree is emerging as a legitimate SEC Player of the Year candidate. He’s been terrific.
7. Alabama — The Tide has been on a roll recently. They’re athletic and dangerous.
8. Florida — The Gators should have lost to Ole Miss a week ago. Had they, things would be (even more) testy in Gainesville for Mike White.
9. Arkansas — The Hogs really didn’t need that loss to South Carolina Saturday.
10. South Carolina — The Gamecocks could really screw this up for everyone. They’re 12-11 overall, No. 99 in the NET and yet they’re 7-3 in the league. Frank Martin, y’all.
11. Texas A&M — The rest of the league is trash. That’s just the way it is. Wednesday night in Nashville is set.
12. Georgia — The Bulldogs do have some talent, but after Tom Crean’s comments Saturday, his kids won’t (and shouldn’t) play for him.
13. Missouri — The Tigers just aren’t very good.
14. Vanderbilt — 0-18 is very much on the table.
6. Ole Miss opens its baseball season Friday against Wright State. I haven’t covered the Rebels baseball program all that much since Chase Parham joined RebelGrove.com staff. He does a great job, and unless I’m needed to fill in or for columns or whatnot, I stay out of the way.
I watch from a distance and without emotion, so I say this knowing it will draw some criticism: Ole Miss fans should take a step back from the passionate overreactions and applaud the job Mike Bianco has done in Oxford. Every season, the Rebels are relevant, at the very least, in the SEC. They’re usually in the national mix as well, and Bianco has made baseball at Swayze Field a major source of entertainment in and around Oxford every spring.
It’s not that way everywhere, and Ole Miss fans would be wise to remember that. Sure, it would be nice for Ole Miss fans if the Rebels made more trips to Omaha every June, but Bianco’s consistency is admirable.
The Rebels open the season as a national contender, picked to finish second in the SEC West behind LSU. Ole Miss has a talented roster and, barring injury, the Rebels will be very much in the mix to host another regional in Oxford in late May/early June. Bianco’s program has been marked by consistency and integrity, and it’s my opinion that shouldn’t be forgotten. An Omaha-or-bust sentiment is flawed on multiple levels.
7. The second National Signing Day has come and gone, and Ole Miss closed extremely well, wrapping up a top-25 class, building some momentum heading into spring and giving fans a few reasons to celebrate.
Now, as Russell Johnson documented on Sunday morning, it’s on to 2020.
The Rebels have needs everywhere, from running back to offensive line to everywhere on the defense. It’s a critical signing class, and given the reality that Mississippi isn’t loaded with D-1 talents at all, it’s going to require creativity as well as success in Memphis.
Ole Miss football insiders believe the Rebels were very, very close to breaking through in the 2019 class. They know the Rebels will be young in 2019 but there’s a sense if the kids can grow up, catch a few breaks early and stay fairly healthy, they can surprise enough on the field to make waves off of it.
8. The NBA trade deadline was Thursday, and Anthony Davis wasn’t traded. Marc Gasol was. So was Tobias Harris. Mike Conley wasn’t. Nicola Mirotic was. Here’s my look at who won and who lost at the deadline:
Milwaukee Bucks — The Bucks landed Mirotic, getting the shooter that they were likely lacking as the playoffs approached. They’re a legitimate Eastern Conference contender.
Toronto Raptors — Getting Gasol improved Toronto on both ends of the floor and Gasol seemed rejuvenated by the move.
Boston Celtics — Davis didn’t go to Los Angeles, meaning Boston will get its chance to deal for him this summer.
Philadelphia 76ers — Harris rounds out the Sixers’ lineup nicely, and gives Philly a legitimate shot to reach the NBA Finals. The Eastern Conference playoffs will be fun.
Los Angeles Clippers/New York Knicks — Both teams now have two max salary slots going into the offseason. Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Kawhi Leonard are all free agents after the season.
Golden State Warriors — No team made a move in the West that increased their chance at an upset in the playoffs. Barring injury, the Warriors are headed back to the NBA Finals.
Los Angeles Lakers: Rich Paul and LeBron James’ gamble failed, and now the Lakers are in a state of disarray.
Utah Jazz — The Jazz really needed Conley. Without him, it’s hard to see them winning a first-round series.
Detroit Pistons — Trading away Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson made no sense for a floundering team already lacking chemistry.
Memphis Grizzlies — The Grizz got nothing of substance for Gasol, JaMychal Green and/or Garrett Temple. It’s almost like an owner with no hoops knowledge is calling the shots.
9. After a week off, Jonathan Howard is back with the drink of the week. You’re welcome. Here’s Jonathan:
This last bit of the NCAA season is going to lead me to the brink of alcoholism. Torrid stretches of wins followed by several losses. I know it’s year one but I would love to make the dance to give our entire athletic department a boost. So, what to drink in the cold last month of the regular season? Scotch, to be more specific, in the form of a Bobby Burns cocktail, which is your drink of the week.
I know I say a lot that there is little known about a drink but seriously with this one, it is only known that the drink is named for Robert Burns, who is a Scottish poet. Which, in of itself, is poetic given the drink’s beautiful simplicity. The drink is a directive of the Rob Roy, which is basically a Manhattan that subs out the American Whiskey for Scotch Whisky. With the Bobbie Burns, they keep the same 2:1 ratio but add in a simple barspoon’s worth of Benedictine and I usually elect to use orange bitter instead of angostura and two dashes instead of one to give it a brighter quality and balance the added sweetness from the Benedictine.
Benedictine is a liqueur made from herbs and spices in a French monastery. The liqueur adds a really beautiful texture and complex herbal quality. This texture is needed for balance as Scotch. I typically use Dewars 12-year for this cocktail. It is a much much drier spirit than our native spirit, but also contains a ton more complex flavors. There are now several types of vermouth at our disposal here in the U.S., and for a Bobby Burns, I go with the original Carpano Antica Vermouth for its robust flavor and rich texture. The result is a beautifully balanced cocktail surly to make the coldest night warm or enjoy with a variety of grilled meats.
2 ounces Dewars 12-year
1 ounce Carpano Antica
2 dashes Orange Bitters
Directions: Fill a mixing glass with ice. Add bitters followed by remaining spirts. Stir 30-35 times until cold. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of orange.
10. We’ll have coverage of Ole Miss basketball, baseball, football recruiting and more this week on RebelGrove.com. Until then, here are some links of interest to me _ and hopefully, to you _ for your reading pleasure: