South Carolina plays 2016 NCAA Tournament participant Michigan on Wednesday.
That’s one way to put it.
Another is, “South Carolina plays Michigan, which made the 2016 NCAA Tournament at the expense of South Carolina.”
The “revenge” angle doesn’t apply. Frank Martin doesn’t ever look at past games wondering what-if, preferring the “when it’s over, it’s over” approach. And it’s not like Michigan beat USC or was thumbing its nose as it was chosen for the Round of 68, while the 24-8 Gamecocks were relegated to the NIT.
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Yet it’s hard not to think about. The Gamecocks had more wins than Michigan on Selection Sunday last year (24 to 22), a better RPI (56 to 58) and an 8-5 record vs. the RPI’s Top 100 (the Wolverines were 4-12). Yet Michigan, with a strength of schedule rated 44, was picked ahead of the Gamecocks (157).
Perhaps it helped that it was the Wolverines (1989 national champs; five-time national runners-up) and the Gamecocks haven’t won an NCAA tournament game since 1973. Perhaps not.
It adds extra spice to an important week for the 2016-17 Gamecocks. They’ve beaten some good teams in their first four games, but this week they have two Top 25 opponents, the kind that will make the decision-makers jot down USC’s name when it comes to impressive scheduling.
The committee proved last year it was all about rewarding teams that took on strong opponents in the non-conference season, and it didn’t matter if they won or lost. USC knows that, but also knows beating a team like Michigan gives them a very nice foundation.
So bring on the Wolverines (4-0) in an early test of two undefeated squads.
“We’re real excited. These are the type matchups you come to college to play,” senior Justin McKie said. “You get up for every game, but these games are the ones that really make you want to go, to prove to yourselves, to prove to others that you’re a top-notch program.”
Martin and Michigan coach John Beilein go way back, having bunked for 18 days in a dorm room in 2013 while assisting with Team USA’s World University Games team. The Wolverines were looking for a high-major home-and-home opponent this year and it didn’t take long for Martin to call.
Michigan returned every starter and was able to upgrade in a few spots. It’s an experienced, hardened team that visits Columbia.
“It’s going to be a hard, hard game for us. But I’m excited,” Martin said. “That’s why you schedule these kind of games.”
The next opponent, No. 18 Syracuse, reached the Final Four last season.
With a worse record, RPI and record vs. RPI Top 100 than South Carolina.
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Who: No. 25 Michigan (4-0) at South Carolina (4-0)
When: 5 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Colonial Life Arena
Radio: 107.5 FM
Michigan’s probable starters: G Derrick Walton 6-1 Sr. (14.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg); G Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman 6-4 Jr. (11.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg); G/F Zak Irvin 6-6 Sr. (14.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg); F Moritz Wagner 6-11 So. (8.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg); F D.J. Wilson 6-10 Jr. (8.0 ppg, 9.5 rpg)
USC’s probable starters: G P.J. Dozier 6-6 So. (11.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg); G Sindarius Thornwell 6-5 Sr. (20.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg); G Duane Notice 6-2 Sr. (10.8 ppg, 1.0 rpg); F Maik Kotsar 6-10 Fr. (7.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg); F Chris Silva 6-9 So. (10.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg)
Next game: South Carolina plays No. 18 Syracuse at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Brooklyn, N.Y.