Ole Miss Rebel basketball is arguably in the midst of their best season in program history, as head coach Andy Kennedy tries to keep his squad on the track to postseason success. With continued focus, Ole Miss should find themselves entering the SEC Tournament riding a wave of momentum, just the opposite of the 1980-81 Ole Miss squad that went on to win the SEC Tournament Championship.
Currently at 17-3 (6-1 SEC) and ranked No. 16 in the nation, folks around Oxford have great expectations for this talented team come time for postseason play. While all Rebel eyes will eventually turn to the NCAA tournament, it will be interesting to see what type of run Ole Miss can first make in the SEC Tournament.
There have been solid Ole Miss teams spanning the history of Rebel basketball since its infancy in 1909, but former head coach Bob Weltlich's 1980-81 Ole Miss club is one that will forever be remembered in Oxford for their unexpected run to capture the SEC Tournament crown on March 7, 1981 against Dominique Wilkins and the Georgia Bulldogs.
The 1980-81 Rebels, while manned with Rebel stars still talked about today, didn't have the type of SEC success in the regular season that the 2013 team is having right now. In fact, Weltlich's Rebels posted only a 5-10 conference mark in the regular season as opposed to Kennedy's No. 16 Rebels which currently sport a 6-1 conference record on the heels of a loss to Kentucky.
After the Rebels return from a daunting trip to No. 4 Florida on February 2, the remainder of conference play should provide ample opportunity to build upon a solid conference record.
While the 2012-13 Rebels have performed well during the regular season, the '81 Rebels seemingly just got hot when it mattered most. Led by Rebel legends Sean Tuohy, Carlos Clark and Elston Turner among others, the '81 squad tore through the 1981 SEC Basketball Tournament in Birmingham, AL. The '81 Rebels upset No.10 Tennessee 81-71 in their opening game, defeated Vanderbilt 71-51 in the second round and hung on to knock off Dominique Wilkins' Georgia Bulldogs in the championship game by a score of 66-62.
Former Ole Miss All-American and Houston Rocket John Stroud suggested to me in an exclusive interview:
"The 1981 team had great chemistry. They were very well-coached and had solid point guard play in Sean Tuohy and two future NBA players, Elston Turner and Carlos Clark. It was a full team."
Furthermore, the '81 Rebels were the first Ole Miss team to ever advance to the NCAA tournament (earning a bid as SEC Tournament champions). Ole Miss narrowly missed a chance to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament in 1981, falling to the Kansas Jayhawks 69-66 in the opening round.
The '81 Rebels and the '13 Rebels are two teams who took and are taking entirely different paths into the SEC Tournament. While the '81 Rebels were probably a more talented team top to bottom, the '13 Rebels rely heavily upon guard Marshall Henderson and forward Murphy Holloway.
Rebel All-American and Houston Rocket John Stroud suggested of what this year’s team needs to do down the stretch to find similar success:
"They have to have better bench play with Henderson and Holloway being consistent from this point moving forward. The mark of great players is consistency."
Bench play and consistency are two elements Andy Kennedy's Rebels must possess in the months of February and March if they wish to take advantage of the opportunity at hand this year. More talented teams, like the ones Ole Miss will see as they advance in postseason play, will make it more difficult for the Rebels to rely so heavily upon Marshall Henderson. That being said, Kennedy must find consistent bench contribution if his team wants to play well into the month of March.
For two Ole Miss basketball teams with at least the potential to be the only Ole Miss teams to ever be crowned SEC Tournament champions, the paths to the postseason couldn't be any different.
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