The Crimson Tide basketball team will close out the regular season with a road trip to Oxford, Mississippi, to take on the Ole Miss Rebels. Tip off is set for 3:00 pm CST with the game televised regionally on the SEC Network and streamed outside the region on ESPN3.
More than likely, Alabama is safely in the NCAA Tournament field, and the Tide's SEC Tournament seeding is more likely to be determined by the result of the Vanderbilt-Tennessee game than the Alabama's own game on Saturday. Still, there is plenty to play for. As for the Tide's chase of a bye in the SEC Tournament, a win would make it more likely for Alabama to get that coveted 4th seed should Tennessee beat Vanderbilt. More importantly, though, the game offers a big opportunity to get a road win over a team currently in the top 60 of the RPI. This type of win would provide a really nice boost to Bama's RPI and overall NCAA Tournament resume, and would put the Tide in a position to possibly move beyond the 8/9 seed range for the NCAA Tournament with a win or two in the SEC Tournament next week. A loss, meanwhile, would make it very difficult to climb beyond the 8/9 range, and if the loss is followed up by a loss early in the SEC Tournament, it would likely drop Bama's seeding to the very bottom of the at-large pool and might, with a loss to lowly South Carolina, even cause more than a few anxious moments for Alabama on Selection Sunday.
Ole Miss comes in just shy of the NCAA Tournament discussion, with a 17-12 record. As mentioned above, they have a fairly strong RPI (ranked 60th as of Friday) and have a SOS ranking in the top 50. If they haven't already, they should be able to lock up an NIT bid with another win or two, something that is becoming the staple of Andy Kennedy's tenure (that's not a knock, the NIT doesn't take bad teams these days). The Rebels could also finish as high as 6th or as low as 9th in the SEC Tournament pecking order. They no doubt would love to avoid finishing 8th or 9th so that they can avoid a certain 2nd round matchup with #1 Kentucky.
Ole Miss is a team that relies heavily on its inside game. Its top two scorers are post players, led by 6'10" senior Terrance Henry's 12.4 points/game. 6'7" junior Murphy Holloway is one of the SEC's top rebounders with 8.9 boards/game in addition to his 11.2 points/game, which is good for 2nd on the team. 6'9" junior Reginald Buckner is one of the SEC's top shot-blockers with 2.3 blocks/game in addition to 8.3 rebounds/game and 6.8 points/game. These three players combine to form one of the most athletic, physical frontcourts in the league.
6'4" junior Nick Williams, an Alabama native, is the leading scorer on the perimeter, with 10.0 points/game. 6'4" freshman Jarvis Summers leads the team with 3.2 assists/game and also scores nearly double-figures with 9.8 points/game.
The two teams met previously in Tuscaloosa, a game that both teams came within milliseconds of winning before the game was finally decided in Alabama's favor in double-overtime. For two teams that have a lot of similarities and have a lot to play for, expect another hard-fought, physical battle today in Oxford as well. Speaking of Oxford, this is a place where Alabama hasn't had a lot of success in recent years, only winning three times at the "Tad Pad" in the last decade and a half. This will be a big struggle for Alabama, but one that could pay huge dividends for SEC and NCAA Tournament positioning if the Tide can get a big road win. Hope for the best.