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Saturday, February 20, 2010
Ole Miss waves farewell to at-large hopes

By Eamonn Brennan

Saturday was not a good day for Colonel Reb. Nor, come to think of it, for Andy Kennedy.

At 5-6 in the SEC and 17-8 overall, Ole Miss was already teetering on the bubble before its matchup with Florida in Oxford, Miss. Then, bad things happened: Ole Miss dropped a 64-61 nail-biter to a thoroughly mediocre Florida team at home, pushing the Rebels to 5-7 in the SEC and officially off the NCAA tournament bubble. The last time Ole Miss made the tournament was in 2002, and barring an unlikely run through the SEC tournament, the loss means the Rebels will extend that NCAA tournament drought -- the longest ongoing tourney drought in the SEC -- into next season.

Ouch. Double ouch, actually, considering Ole Miss was a top-25 team to begin the season, and some saw them as a sleeper favorite to win the SEC. At the very least, the talented Rebels were to be more competitive than ever, finally breaking through in Kennedy's fourth year with the program. The program's rebuilding process has been steady if not spectacular (until Kennedy's late-night run-in with a Cincinnati cab driver), and injuries plagued Kennedy's teams in prior years. But the injury bug stayed away this year. The Rebels have few conditional issues to blame for this year's collapse, which comprises seven losses in Ole Miss' last 11 games.

Rebel fans can start counting the days to football season again. This was supposed to be the year. Unless something crazy happens, it won't be.