All about the SEC: Rebel unrest

Ole Miss’ NCAA tournament hopes all but ended with Tuesday’s loss to struggling South Carolina. The question now is whether Andy Kennedy’s tenure as coach did, too.

Now in his fifth year with the Rebels, Kennedy is becoming unpopular with fans and donors for failing to take Ole Miss’ program to the next level. The Rebels have yet to reach the NCAA tournament under Kennedy – their last appearance was 2002 – and this year they were swept by rival Mississippi State.

It’s not as if Ole Miss has been embarrassing under Kennedy. The Rebels have twice claimed a share of the SEC West title and have earned three NIT bids. In 2008 and 2010, Kennedy’s squad was likely a victory or two away from earning an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament, but setbacks in early rounds of the SEC tournament caused the Rebels to fall short. This year Ole Miss is 17-11 overall and 5-8 in league play.

Ole Miss has twice shared the SEC West title under Andy Kennedy, but more was expected this season.
(Kelly Lambert/US Presswire)

Firing Kennedy wouldn’t be cheap.

Kennedy, 42, has three years remaining on a contract that pays him $1.3 million a year. Ole Miss athletic director Pete Boone told reporters Thursday that Kennedy would be due the full $3.9 million if the school decided to make a change.

“There are two things I look at when evaluating any program, and that’s the [current] year and trend of where is the program?” Boone told reporters. “I look at the annual progress and then I look at the program’s progress. Where have we been? Where are we going? Then I have a discussion with a coach at the end of that and try to evaluate it all and see what’s in the best interest of Ole Miss and the coach.

“That’s what I’ll do with him.”

Boone was also asked about his expectations for the 2010-11 team.

“I think I’m almost like everyone else,” he told reporters. “I hoped we would win a West Division championship and hoped that we’d be in the NCAA playoffs. That’s what I hoped would happen and anticipated would happen.”

Ole Miss’ struggles haven’t been entirely Kennedy’s fault, as standout guard Terrico White left a year early for the NBA draft while forward Murphy Holloway transferred to South Carolina. Still, with senior guard Chris Warren leading the way, the Rebels were picked to finish second in the SEC West. An NCAA tournament berth was certainly not out of the question.

The only way the Rebels can earn a bid now is by winning the SEC tournament next month in Atlanta.

“Our goal every year is to compete for conference championships,” Kennedy told reporters Thursday. “I realize that we all want to be able to take that next step. Talking about it and actually taking the step are two different things. For us, we just haven’t been consistent enough.

“Have we shown promise? Have we shown we’re capable? I think that we have. We just haven’t been able to sustain it and, as a result, we’re in the position we’re in.”

LEAGUE RANKINGS

(Last week’s rank in parenthesis.)

1. Florida (22-5, 11-2) – The Gators have won 14 of their last 16 games, including six in a row. (1)

2. Vanderbilt (20-7, 8-5) – Leading scorer John Jenkins had just 11 points in Tuesday’s loss to Tennessee. (2)

3. Alabama (19-8, 11-2) – Defense continues to be the Crimson Tide’s calling card. (5)

4. Tennessee (17-11, 7-6) – The Vols are 2-3 since the return of Bruce Pearl. (4)

5. Kentucky (19-8, 7-6) – The Wildcats have won 32 straight home games. (3)

6. Georgia (18-9, 7-6) – Travis Leslie had 20 points, six rebounds and four assists against Florida on Thursday. (6)

7. Arkansas (17-10, 6-7) – Rotnei Clarke is averaging 21.5 points over his last four games. (9)

8. Mississippi State (14-13, 6-7) – Will the Bulldogs even make the NIT? (7)

9. South Carolina (14-12, 5-8) – Tuesday’s victory over Ole Miss snapped a five-game losing streak. (10)

10. Ole Miss (17-11, 5-8) – Chris Warren had 33 points in Tuesday’s loss to South Carolina. (8)

11. LSU (11-17, 3-10) – The Tigers had averaged 54.5 points in their previous 10 games before erupting for 84 points against Mississippi State. (11)

12. Auburn (9-18, 2-11) – The Tigers lost to Alabama on a tip-in at the buzzer Wednesday. (12)

WHO’S HOT?

Kenny Boynton, Florida – The junior guard scored 12 consecutive points in the second half of the Gators’ 71-62 victory over Georgia on Thursday. He converted a three-point play on a fast break before hitting three straight 3-pointers to put his team up 63-53 with 5:09 to play.

John Pelphrey, Arkansas – Wednesday’s overtime victory over Kentucky was Pelphrey’s first in four tries against his alma mater. “Everyone wants to measure themselves against those guys,” Pelphrey said. “I know that feeling. Our guys are going to be able to take this with them and they’re going to be able to talk about it for a long, long time.” Arkansas, which plays Auburn on Saturday, has won three of its last four games.

Tennessee – The Volunteers – who hadn’t defeated a top SEC team since beating Georgia on Jan. 18 – overcame a nine-point second-half deficit against Vanderbilt by ending the game on a 27-9 run. Scotty Hopson had 19 points in the 60-51 victory. At this point Tennessee has to feel good about its NCAA tournament hopes.

WHO’S NOT?

Mississippi State – The Bulldogs may have hurt their NIT chances by suffering an embarrassing 84-82 home loss to LSU on Wednesday. Mississippi State led by as many as 13 points in the first half before trailing by as many as 10 points after intermission against an LSU team that had lost 10 straight games.

Alabama’s bubble status – It’s tough to fathom that a team with an 11-2 SEC record is still considered to be on the outside looking in with regard to the NCAA tournament. Alabama has some bad losses, without question. But the Crimson Tide is one of hottest teams in the country right now. Any team with an 11-2 mark in a Big Six conference deserves to be in the field.

Brandon Knight, Kentucky – The Wildcats guard missed three shots in the final 10 seconds of Kentucky’s 77-76 loss to Arkansas on Wednesday. Knight’s final clank came on a desperation 3-point attempt after the Wildcats inbounded the ball with 1.8 seconds left.

THREE TO WATCH

Florida at Kentucky, Saturday – The Wildcats are in desperate need of a momentum boost as the NCAA tournament approaches.

Mississippi State at Tennessee, Saturday – The Bulldogs played Kentucky tough on the road. Can they do the same thing against the Vols?

Alabama at Ole Miss, Saturday – Every game is important for Alabama’s NCAA tournament hopes – and Andy Kennedy’s job security.

Jason King is a college football and basketball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Feb 25, 2011