Ole Miss has experienced a remarkable turnaround in Kermit Davis' first season as coach, winning eight more games than a season ago entering the second round of the SEC Tournament on Thursday as the No. 7 seed against 10th-seeded Alabama in Nashville, Tenn. The eight-victory jump is the largest among all Power 5 teams this season, and after a late-season three-game losing streak, the Rebels found themselves late against Missouri on Saturday, rallying for a 73-68 road victory.
"I put on the board, I thought it was an NCAA Tournament play-in game," Davis - named SEC coach of the year this week - told reporters after Ole Miss rallied from a double-digit deficit to upend the Tigers and reach 20 victories, likely locking down a NCAA berth. The Crimson Tide have plenty of work to do this week to improve their NCAA resume, falling 82-70 to Arkansas on Saturday to conclude a 2-6 conclusion to the regular season. Alabama has struggled with turnovers (giving up 47 points off miscues in its previous two games) and ranks 301st nationally in free-throw shooting (66.9 percent). "When you make the same mistakes and the message has been clear, maybe going into this new season with our backs against the wall, it's a new opportunity and maybe it will do our team some good," coach Avery Johnson told the media Tuesday.
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ABOUT ALABAMA (17-14): Freshman guard Kira Lewis Jr., who earned all-conference freshman team honors, leads the Crimson Tide in scoring at 13.9 points per game and is the second-youngest Division I player in the nation. Senior forward Donta Hall leads the SEC in double-doubles (13) and ranks first in conference games in rebounding (8.9 per game). The Crimson Tide have failed to score more than 70 points in their past eight games and are 2-10 this season when held under that mark.
ABOUT MISSISSIPPI (20-11): Junior guards Breein Tyree (18.5 points per game) and Terence Davis (15.5 points) combine to form the highest-scoring duo in the SEC and account for 44.8 percent of the Rebels' offensive output. Tyree, a first-team All-SEC pick, is second in the league in scoring and sixth in free-throw percentage (83.1 percent). Ole Miss is third in the nation from the foul line, hitting 78.5 percent of its attempts.
1. Crimson Tide G John Petty had a team-high 15 points to lead the way in a 74-53 win at home in the only previous meeting between the teams this season.
2. The Rebels' past five games have been decided by a total of 13 points, Ole Miss going 2-3 in that span.
3. Thursday's winner gets second-seeded and fourth-ranked Kentucky in the quarterfinals Friday at 7 p.m. ET.
PREDICTION: Ole Miss 74, Alabama 63 Bet Now
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