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Rebels face must-win home game against Georgia

Saturday’s game against Georgia is a must win for Ole Miss, if it hopes to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament. There are no two ways around it.

It is no longer premature to make such an assertion. The Rebels sit at 18-8 and 8-5 in SEC play. To the team’s credit, no one outside of their locker room thought they’d be in such a position at this juncture in the season. There really isn’t a definitive magic number for Ole Miss, though two more wins would likely wrap up an NCAA Tournament bid without further work needing to be done in the SEC Tournament in Nashville. The general consensus is that 10 SEC wins before heading to Nashville will all but lock up a bid. With what the Rebels have left on their schedule, they can ill-afford to lose on Saturday, even if they don’t necessarily look at it that way.

“I just think it is another good SEC opportunity,” Kermit Davis said. “Their NET is somewhere between 100-120 and they’ve been competitive, so no not at all. We just approach it as a chance to get our ninth SEC win, which is a good number. With only five games left, they all matter, but not for those reasons.”

When Ole Miss’ NCAA Tournament resume is displayed on TV screens across the country during game broadcasts, it usually shows in the quality wins category: Mississippi State, Baylor and Auburn twice. The bad losses column reads ‘none.’ If the Rebels were to lose on Saturday, Georgia’s name would appear in the latter section and blemish a fairly clean resume to this point. The Bulldogs’ NET currently sits at 118. They’ve lost seven in a row and 11 straight SEC games, with the lone win coming over Texas in late January in the SEC Big 12 Challenge.

Aside from all of that, a loss makes the path to 10 wins for Ole Miss much more daunting. The Rebels have two home games with Tennessee and Kentucky left and a pair of road trips at Arkansas and Missouri to end the season. The former two are vying for one seeds in the NCAA Tournament and the latter two are struggling teams. A win over Georgia gets the Rebels to 9-5, a pretty large step towards that 10-win number. It would mean the Rebels would either need to upset Tennessee or Kentucky, or, more realistically, win one of their two remaining road games to achieve that mark. Ole Miss is a good road team. It boasts a 4-3 record in true road games. One of the more remarkable aspects of this run of success in his first season at the helm is Kermit Davis taking what was a mentally fragile team a year ago and turning — largely the same group of guys — into a team that believes they can walk into any building and win.

Be that as it may, a loss would mean Ole Miss would need to win both of its final two road games or pull a pretty large upset over the Volunteers or Wildcats to get to 10 SEC wins. Not impossible, but a much more daunting task and trims the margin for error significantly.

Georgia is also a team that, to its credit, hasn’t quit. It has struggled to close out games, but scared two ranked SEC teams in its last two games.

“They are playing much better based on their last two games,” Kermit Davis said. “They could’ve easily beaten LSU and Mississippi State.”

Georgia is the best rebounding team in the SEC. It struggles to close out games late because it does not get consistently good guard play, but the Bulldogs can punish teams on the glass, which has been one of the Rebels’ most glaring weaknesses this season. Ole Miss won in Athens a couple weeks ago largely due to the nine-rebound performance from Bruce Stevens. The senior forward would immensely help his team with a similar outing on Saturday.

“That was probably his most active game as far as finishing possessions,” Kermit Davis said. “He and Dom, we need to be getting 12-15 rebounds from those two.”

Georgia is a struggling team, but one that could give Ole Miss fits on the interior and could hang around if the Rebels allow it with a lethargic start.

“We have to attack aggressively,” Terence Davis said. “We know going into the game it is going to be a rebounding game and we have to attack the glass aggressively to win the game. The things we did on the road, we need to do at home this time.”

The team knows the importance of Saturday’s game and what it means with regards to their path to the NCAA Tournament, whether it is on the forefront of their minds or not.

“We’ve put ourselves in a really good position to play in some really challenging games in the last five,” Kermit Davis said. “We just have to lower our head and scratch out as many wins as we can.”

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