BY PARRISH ALFORD
OXFORD - Ole Miss players say it isn't about the seed. It's about what growth can occur from here.
The Rebels shared the SEC Western Division title with Mississippi State but do not share similar status in the NIT.
State was awarded a No. 1 seed in the 32-team field and plays Mississippi Valley State tonight. The Rebels, seeded fourth in the South Region, are at home Wednesday night at 7 against Appalachian State, a 25-7 team that pictured itself - as did many others - as a team that might last a while in the NCAA tournament.
The Mountaineers lost to College of Charleston in overtime in the Southern Conference tournament. Realizing their bubble status, school officials took out a full-page ad in the Indianapolis Star detailing their accomplishments and their argument for receiving an NCAA at-large bid.
The ad did not impress, and the Mountaineers are a 5 seed getting ready for a trip to Oxford.
"I don't know about us being a 4 seed with Mississippi State being a 1 seed," Ole Miss forward Kenny Williams said. "We were co-champions of the West. I'm not sure who all is ahead of us in the NIT. I'm not really looking at that. They've got us in there, and we're fixing to make some noise."
"We feel like we should have been higher, with State getting a No. 1 seed," point guard Todd Abernethy said. "We're not going to focus on that too much. We're just going to play."
The Rebels (20-12) are guaranteed only one home game. Higher seeds will host in each of the first three rounds. If Ole Miss defeats Appalachian State, it will play the winner between South No. 1 seed Clemson and No. 8 East Tennessee State.
Two wins could get the Rebels a matchup with No. 2 seed Syracuse for a chance to play in the semifinals at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Abernethy said he is excited about the teams in the South Region and doesn't feel "slighted" by the seeding.
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy is in the NIT for a second-straight season, but there are few similarities between this year and last. He expected an NIT berth when this team lost to Florida. Last year as interim coach at Cincinnati, he thought the Bearcats would make the NCAAs.
"I was on the other side last year. I was (Syracuse coach) Jim Boeheim," Kennedy said. "It was a totally different mindset than what we're facing here. Our guys have expended a lot of energy to get to this point. I want them to conjure up enough energy to make one more push."
Kennedy says the Rebels still have many reasons to be motivated. One more win would make the 2007 bunch the fourth-winningest team in school history.
"We don't want to end on a bad note and come home and lose after being 15-1 here," Williams said. "The more games we win, the more exposure we get. South Carolina won it the last two years, and a guy averaging nine points and six rebounds, Renaldo Balkman, was a first-round draft pick.
For our three seniors, that means a lot."