Before Kansas State played Oklahoma State on Feb. 27, 2007, Wildcat players were alerted by an assistant coach of the game’s significance.
Frank Martin, then serving under Bob Huggins, put a 20-9 Kansas State team on the bubble.
“You want to go to the NCAA Tournament?” Martin asked his players. “You got to win this game. You don’t win this game, it’s going to be hard.”
OSU beat the Wildcats by 14. When the Big Dance was revealed two weeks later, K-State wasn’t a part of it.
So, no, despite the buzz surrounding his Gamecocks, Martin won’t be bringing any postseason discussion to the South Carolina locker room. USC (13-8, 4-4 SEC) hosts Mississippi State (15-6, 3-5) at 8:30 Wednesday night.
“I don’t pay attention to it, I really don’t,” Martin said Monday at Colonial Life Arena. “Some people, they get engulfed with the 24-hour reporting. You’re in, you’re out. You’re in, you’re out. You’re in, you’re out. This game, that game.
“Let’s say we lose to Mississippi State, OK? Does that mean we’re not going to the NCAA Tournament? We win seven games after Mississippi State, we’re going to the NCAA Tournament. You see what I’m saying? It’s about the next game.”
The Gamecocks, thanks to wins over Kentucky and Florida in an eight-day span, debuted in Jerry Palm’s bracket projection on CBSSports.com late last week. On Monday, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had USC among his first eight teams out of the field.
South Carolina, Final Four participants a year ago, is seeking consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since 1997-98.
“I’m into the next game,” Martin said. “And you know what? Let’s say we win four in a row now, starting Wednesday. Is that getting us in the NCAA Tournament? No, unless we win No. 5. We just got to stay in the moment. It’s harder in today’s day and age because of social media. Because of the different ways that so many people have access to your players, it’s harder. But that’s all right, it’s all part of it.
“What we learn going through all of this is how committed we have to be to each other in that locker room and our vision and what we’re trying to do, because, without it, March is not an option unless that’s in place.”
USC played five NCAA Tournament games last season, but only three Gamecocks on the 2017-18 roster – Chris Silva, Maik Kotsar, Hassani Gravett – saw significant action in them. Frank Booker, from his freshman and sophomore seasons at Oklahoma, is the other Carolina player with Big Dance experience.
“It’s always fun,” said Booker, who transferred to USC from Florida Atlantic last June. “I didn’t come here to lose or not make the NCAA Tournament. I came here because I felt like I had experience and I could play well enough to help us get to another NCAA Tournament.
“I feel like we’re getting there, we’re right there. It’s just little things that we have to fine-tune and just get the right people to actually contribute.
“If we all contribute from the starters to the bench, we’re a really hard team to beat.”
After Wednesday, South Carolina faces five straight teams ranked among the top 35 in RPI. The Gamecocks have a clear path to the NCAA Tournament – just don’t expect Martin to start fitting their dance shoes.
He’s learned his lesson.
“How did I help my team by saying that to them?” Martin said, still kicking himself 11 years later.
“I tell our players this: Life is not like music, man. You get to hit the rewind and listen to your favorite song again.
“(In life), you get once chance to listen to that song. And that was my only chance to play that song that year, that moment. And when I played it, if I had the opportunity to hit rewind, I would have done that.”