Ole Miss’ fifth loss in seven games is a double whammy for the SEC

Jeff Eisenberg

Deep in the bowels of the Colonial Life Arena is a metal door with a flurry of dents in it that weren't there a few hours ago.

Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson did that damage Wednesday night with his fists.

The source of Henderson's frustration was a 63-62 road loss to SEC bottom feeder South Carolina that ended with the Rebels squandering a late six-point lead by going scoreless for the final five minutes. Nick Williams and Henderson both had jump shots blocked on Ole Miss' final possession to seal the loss.

The loss is a double whammy for the beleaguered SEC, which could get as few as two NCAA tournament bids even after Missouri all but locked up a spot with its upset of first-place Florida on Tuesday night.

First of all, Ole Miss has followed its 6-0 start to SEC play by losing five of seven games, a discouraging stretch that also included a loss to middling Texas A&M in addition to Wednesday's South Carolina upset. At 19-7 overall and 8-5 in the SEC, the Rebels are still in the hunt for an NCAA bid but they have little margin for error left with a home victory over Missouri as their lone marquee win and only one more game left against a team in the upper half of the league.

Ole Miss' woes are also damaging for fellow SEC bubble team Kentucky, which counts the Rebels as their lone quality win. Since Ole Miss has tumbled out of the RPI top 50 and has faded to the outskirts of the bubble, the Wildcats (18-8, 9-4) suddenly have a resume that looks even more barren than it did a few weeks ago.

That double whammy makes a two-bid SEC a more realistic possibility than it had been entering the week.

Maybe Ole Miss emerges from this slump and finishes the regular season with a badly needed win streak. Maybe Kentucky builds on Wednesday night's narrow home win over Vanderbilt and boosts its resume during a difficult finishing run. Or maybe long shots like Alabama or Arkansas get hot late and eke out a bid.

Regardless, all those teams have plenty of work left to do to ensure Florida and Missouri aren't the SEC's lone NCAA tournament representatives.