The Southern Mississippi men’s basketball team will stand alone to represent the state of Mississippi in March Madness.
Unfortunately for the Golden Eagles, they will do their dancing in the National Invitation Tournament, while Ole Miss didn’t receive a bid to the NIT.
Southern Miss (27-6), which tied for the regular-season title in Conference USA, will face Toledo (27-6) at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the opening round of the NIT at Reed Green Coliseum in Hattiesburg. The winner of that game will play the winner of the game between No. 2 seed Missouri (18-15) and No. 7 seed Davidson (26-6).
Southern Miss earned a No. 3 seed in the NIT after losing to Louisiana tech 88-70 in the semifinals of the C-USA tournament on Friday in El Paso, Texas. Still, Southern Miss, which tied with Tulsa, Louisiana Tech, and Middle Tennessee atop the regular-season standings, thought it had done enough to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament. Tulsa, which defeated Louisiana Tech in the C-USA title game, earned the league’s only bid to the NCAA tournament.
“We’re extremely disappointed,” Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall told The Clarion-Ledger. “I thought last year, our team completely overachieved. We were the least experienced team in the country. This year, we were a senior-dominated team. 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. … I’m not going to spin it like that.”
Southern Miss won its first regular-season C-USA title since 2001 this season. It was looking to build off a trip to the NIT last season, which was the program’s 10th overall. Southern Miss defeated Charleston Southern and Louisiana Tech before losing to BYU in the 2013 NIT.
This season, Southern Miss finished with a Ratings Percentage Index of 34, according to RealTime RPI, and a Strength of Schedule of 130. Those factors are two tools the NCAA tournament selection committee uses to pick its at-large teams. Outside of regular-season victories against Louisiana Tech and UTEP, which finished one game behind the four leaders in the final C-USA standings, Southern Miss lacked quality wins against the nation’s top teams to get into the NCAA tournament.
Toledo, which received a No. 6 seed in the NIT, lost to Western Michigan 98-77 in the Mid-American Conference tournament title game. The Rockets, who won the Mid-American Conference regular-season title, have won four of their last five games
Louisiana Tech (27-7, 13-3 C-USA) also earned a No. 3 seed in the NIT. It will play host to No. 6 seed Iona at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Ole Miss’ season ended Friday with a 75-73 loss to Georgia in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament. The Rebels (19-14) finished in a three-way tie for sixth in the SEC at 9-9. Ole Miss defeated NCAA tournament invitee Coast Carolina in its non-conference schedule, but it lost to NCAA tournament invitees Kansas State, Oregon, Mercer, and Dayton. It also lost to Mississippi State, Alabama, and Georgia in the regular season. Ole Miss had a RPI of 93 and a SOS of 89 according to RealTime RPI.
SEC regular-season and tournament champion Florida, Kentucky, and Tennessee earned bids to the NCAA tournament. Georgia, LSU, Arkansas, and Missouri received bids to the NIT. Texas A&M will play in the College Basketball Invitational.
This is the second time in coach Andy Kennedy’s eight seasons with the program that Ole Miss didn’t earn a bid to play in the postseason. Last season, Ole Miss beat Florida to win the SEC tournament title. It went on to defeat Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament before losing to La Salle.