Southern Miss to NIT; Rebels done

Published 11:30 am Monday, March 17, 2014

Neil Watson (14) and the Southern Miss Golden Eagles accepted an NIT bid for the second straight season Sunday. They’ll host Toledo in a first-round game Wednesday night in Hattiesburg.

Neil Watson (14) and the Southern Miss Golden Eagles accepted an NIT bid for the second straight season Sunday. They’ll host Toledo in a first-round game Wednesday night in Hattiesburg.

Once again, Southern Miss is heading to the Little Dance.

Ole Miss is heading home.

Southern Miss, which won 27 games and a share of the Conference USA regular-season championship, was left out of the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season when the field of 68 was announced Sunday. The Golden Eagles (27-6) did earn a berth in the 32-team NIT, and will host a first-round game Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. against Toledo (27-6).

“Our goal was definitely to get to the NCAA Tournament, and falling short of that goal — I can’t sell the fact that it’s OK, or that it’s going to be better in the long run, because it’s not,” Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall said. “I’m not going to spin it like that.”

Southern Miss lost 88-70 to Louisiana Tech in the semifinals of the Conference USA Tournament on Friday. Tournament champion Tulsa was the lone C-USA team in the field of 68, and was a 13-seed.

Southern Miss was No. 33 nationally in the most recent RPI rankings. It was the highest RPI team left out of the NCAA Tournament field for the second straight year.

“We had a 32 RPI, 10 road wins, which is sixth in the country. The committee always says they want you to win on the road, which we did. We won our league, were undefeated on our home floor,” Tyndall said. “We weren’t a flash in the pan type team because it’s back-to-back 25-win seasons and we had four seniors. So with that experience you hope the committee would say that team has a chance to go beat some people. And yet we don’t get in. It’s very, very frustrating.”

While Southern Miss will at least get to keep playing, Ole Miss’ season is over. The Rebels, with a 19-14 overall record and 9-9 in the Southeastern Conference, were left out of both the NCAA Tournament and NIT. It’s just the second time in eight seasons under coach Andy Kennedy that Ole Miss has not reached the postseason.

Ole Miss reportedly did not pursue spots in the lower-tier College Basketball Invitational or College Insider Tournament.

Ole Miss won the SEC Tournament last season, but struggled to gain any traction this year. It lost six of its last eight regular-season games, and a 75-73 loss to Georgia in the SEC semifinals sealed its fate.

After the loss to Georgia, Kennedy was not optimistic about the Rebels’ postseason chances — a realistic view that turned out to be accurate. He cited the NCAA’s policy of giving regular-season conference champions that fail to win their league tournaments an automatic NIT bid — each of which potentially takes away an at-large bid — and Ole Miss’ standing as a middle of the pack team in a weak SEC as barriers.

Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee earned NCAA Tournament bids from the SEC. LSU, Georgia, Missouri and Arkansas got NIT bids.

“Will they take five teams from the SEC to the NIT? You know, probably not. And I like the format of the NIT over awarding the regular season champion of low leagues, I think that’s a great move. But obviously it eats up slots,” Kennedy said after Friday’s loss.

Online

Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. ESPN3

Toledo at Southern Miss