The NIT is the basketball equivalent of winding up at the wrong party, but nevertheless, the 5th seeded Ole Miss Rebels are in snowy New Jersey to take on the 4th seeded Monmouth Hawks in the first round of the postseason tournament. This marks the sixth appearance in the NIT for the Rebels under Andy Kennedy and the 12th time in program history.
After defeating Missouri in the first round of the SEC tournament, the Rebels were unable to advance any further after dropping a thriller to the Arkansas Razorbacks in Round 2.
A win over the Razorbacks could’ve pushed the Rebels into one of the last few spots in the NCAA tournament, and a win against Vanderbilt in the semifinals would’ve surely gotten the Rebels into the tournament. Hindsight is 20/20 but the early losses to Middle Tennessee, Virginia Tech and Creighton earlier in the year came back to haunt the Rebels as all three ended up in the 68-team field. The Rebel resume didn’t stack up to others when it came down to it, and that’s why Ole Miss is in the NIT and not the Big Dance.
A slow start and poor decision making down the stretch led to the Rebels demise in the SEC tournament; and against a solid Monmouth team, the Rebels will need to improve. It starts with senior Sebastian Saiz who grabbed rebound after rebound against Arkansas but struggled to score, missing his first ten shot attempts. Toward the end of a back-and-forth game, Breein Tyree’s rushed 3-point attempt, and deciding to dribble out rather than taking an easy lay in to force an inbound pass from the Razorbacks, ultimately could’ve changed the course of the game.
A tenacious effort on defense from the Razorbacks and a lack of aggressiveness on the Ole Miss offense led to just 14 free throw attempts throughout the game, and the Rebels could convert only eight of those attempts. In close games, those are the kind of stats that can point to why a team walked away a winner or a loser.
All season long the Rebels played like the young group that they are. Two wins followed by two losses, low-scoring efforts followed by explosions of offense are types of ups and downs that have landed the Rebels in the NIT.
Without the pressure of making it to the NCAA tournament on their shoulders, the Rebels can use this tournament to gain valuable experience to bring into the 2017-18 season. Allowing young players to step in the NIT can give the team a look at the future of Ole Miss basketball, and give them the chance to take the reigns without a high level of consequence.
Hailing from the mid-major MAAC conference, Monmouth missed the NCAA tournament after finishing with a 27-6 record in the regular season. They went outside of their conference to face South Carolina, Syracuse and UNC, losing all three games. They were able to take South Carolina to OT but lost the other two games by a combined 49 points. Justin Robinson leads the team in scoring with 19.6 PPG and assists with 4.7 per game.
The winner of tonight’s matchup will either face top-seeded Syracuse or 8th seeded UNCG in the second round.
Tip-off from the OceanFirst Bank Center on the Monmouth campus is set for 6:15 p.m. unless the snow storms in the area have any objection. Watching options for fans back home are ESPN3 or the WatchESPN app. The radio broadcast can be heard on OleMissSports.com or the Ole Miss Radio Network.
Steven Gagliano is a writer for HottyToddy.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.