So where does South Carolina's nonconference performance leave its NCAA tournament chances? Reasonable, but still an uphill climb, is the consensus among three of the experts I talked to this week.
Right now the problem is USC's rank in the Ratings Percentage Index (102 as of Wednesday) and strength of schedule, as well as the SEC's struggles. (Even after Arkansas' win over Texas). The win over Baylor put South Carolina back in the discussion, but the weakness of the SEC - sixth-best conference in Division I, according to most analysts - means a .500 league record isn't going to cut it.
Joe Lunardi, who does the popular "Bracketology" for ESPN, didn't have USC in his latest projected field of 65, or among the next eight teams he considered. A good SEC regular season can change that.
"South Carolina has to go 10-6 just to get a number that is even gonna get them looked at," Lunardi said, alluding to the RPI.
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Jerry Palm, who runs the CollegeRPI.com web site, agrees. Palm was a panel member for a mock NCAA tournament selection committee last year, and has become a respected analyst of the process.
"I think it might take about 11 league wins for anyone to get at-large consideration, but it's still very early, so that could change," Palm said. "Certainly, muddling along at .500 won't do it for anyone."
Another analyst, Ken Pomeroy, agrees that 10 SEC wins is the goal for South Carolina.
"The Baylor win was a nice pickup. It will hold up as one of the ten best non-conference true road wins in the country, so that will be a huge help if they can claw their way to bubble consideration," Pomeroy said. "Obviously, the rest of the non-conference schedule besides Clemson was awfully weak. So they'll need to get to 10-6, and top three in the East to be considered for the tournament. The chances of that are probably not as wild as fans might think, maybe 25 percent or so."
I'll have a larger story in Thursday's paper about the SEC's situation. At this point the Gamecocks appear to be right in there with a group of other teams (LSU, Alabama, Vanderbilt) competing for a third or fourth SEC bid. But it's still early, and a lot could change.�