USA TODAY Sports
Marshall Henderson, his attitude, antics and propensity for scoring will be on full display in March as the Ole Miss Rebels secured an auto-bid into the tournament after defeating the Florida Gators in the SEC Tournament championship game.
Most importantly for Ole Miss, the win guaranteed them a spot in the NCAA Tournament, where their previous position as a bubble team would have made for a very long Sunday afternoon wait.
The Rebels can thank Henderson, the SEC's leading scorer, for leading them to the tournament. Their energetic guard averaged 23.6 points in the tournament and is riding a hot shooting hand that could make Ole Miss a team to look out for on the bracket line.
As the No. 3 seed in the SEC tournament, the Rebels got a stiff test from the Missouri Tigers in their first game, coming back from a 14-point deficit in the second half punctuated by Derrick Millinghaus' drive to the basket with 1.1 seconds to give the Rebels the win.
Their second game was an unexpected easier task, after the 10th-seeded Vanderbilt Commodores upset the second-seeded Kentucky Wildcats in the previous round. It was a blessing and a curse for the Rebels, who needed some more high-profile wins to pad their resume in case they were making the case for an at-large berth. At the same time, the Commodores were a much easier road to the tournament final as Henderson scored 23 points in a 64-52 win.
The win over the Gators in the SEC Tournament final made everyone rooting for Ole Miss breathe a huge sigh of relief. Chris Dobbertean of SB Nation's latest bracket had Ole Miss as one of the last four in, meaning all it would take is the committee to focus on the negatives and the Rebels could be sitting out of the tournament.
The Rebels profile had a few big hits against it. Losses at Texas A&M, South Carolina and Mississippi State all looked pretty bad, but the worst knock was their non-conference strength of schedule, which was rated 281st in the nation.
All of that is a moot point now. The win over the Gators also might move the Rebels off an important spot as they were sitting in the play-in game for the 12th-seed. The Gators' profile, who were projected as a three-seed, might be enough to move Ole Miss up to an 11-seed where they would be protected in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Either way, the NCAA Tournament is better off with Ole Miss in it. Henderson is one of the most explosive, entertaining, alienating and exciting players in college hoops and makes the Rebels a dangerous draw for anyone.
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