Ole Miss, Oklahoma hoping to find early-season form

Heading into conference play, it would've been surprising to think Oklahoma and Ole Miss would meet in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, in a matchup of 8 and 9 seeds.

The Sooners were 11-1 entering Big 12 play against a schedule devoid of Quadrant IV games, but with just two wins against teams that would eventually land in the tournament -- Wofford and Florida.

The Rebels were 10-2 going into SEC play, though Baylor was the only eventual tournament team Ole Miss had knocked off to that point.

But here both teams are, Ole Miss as the No. 8 seed in the East Region and Oklahoma No. 9, set to play Friday in Columbia, S.C.

Ole Miss went through the SEC with a 10-8 record, with the highlight being two wins over Auburn.

Oklahoma struggled even more, going 7-11, with a late-season home win over Kansas helping the Sooners into the field for the second consecutive season and sixth time in seven years.

"Obviously the committee said that every game counts equal, and they stood by their word," Sooners coach Lon Kruger said.

Ole Miss has experience at Colonial Life Arena this season, though it wasn't the most pleasant experience for the Rebels. On Feb. 19, South Carolina beat Ole Miss 79-64 in their home building. Rebels guard Terence Davis led Ole Miss with 18 points in that game, though he was just 6 of 17 from the floor.

"Being a four-year guy in the SEC, getting the rims you pretty much play a few games in, you feel pretty good about it," Davis said.

That loss to the Gamecocks started a 2-5 slide for Ole Miss entering the tournament.

Still, the fact that the Rebels are in the tournament is notable.

Ole Miss was 12-20 last season, with Andy Kennedy stepping down late in the campaign. Kermit Davis inherited a team that was picked to finish last in the SEC.

But the Rebels exceeded expectations from the start, and Tuesday, the school announced a new four-year deal with Davis.

Ole Miss is in the tournament for the first time since 2015 and just the ninth time overall.

Sooners graduate transfers Aaron Calixte and Miles Reynolds transferred to Oklahoma hoping for an NCAA Tournament appearance, Calixte from Maine and Reynolds from Pacific.

"We hit a little slump. Hit a wall," Reynolds said. "I knew we were going to get out of it. We won the games we needed to win, and now it's a clean slate."

The Sooners struggled even more down the stretch last year, finishing 4-11 to earn a No. 10 seed before falling to Rhode Island in overtime in the first round.

A big reason for Oklahoma's appearance this season was the play of Kristian Doolittle late in the campaign. The Sooners went 4-2 to close the regular season with Doolittle averaging 17.3 points and 8.7 rebounds in the final six games.

Doolittle's emergence softened the blow of Jamuni McNeace's absence, as the senior center has been battling a right ankle injury since November. He aggravated the injury in the Big 12 tournament loss to West Virginia and is questionable for the NCAA Tournament.

--Field Level Media

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