Every so often, the door nearest the podium would swing open and Frank Martin’s voice would be in competition with Kool & The Gang.
“Celebration” was part of the post-game set list Saturday at Auburn Arena. The Tigers, freshly crowned SEC champions, were still parading around the floor when South Carolina representatives were discussing their 79-70 loss to end the regular season.
The Gamecocks (16-15, 7-11 SEC) enter this week’s SEC tournament as the No. 11 seed. They’ll face 14th-seeded Ole Miss (12-19, 5-13) at approximately 9:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
The 11th-place finish for USC matched its slotting in the SEC preseason poll. Back in October, when the media-voted poll was released, Martin said, “I might be happy if we’re 11th because the league is so good.”
Five months later, he had confirmation.
“If fans don’t understand that every game that’s played in this league is kind of like this, I don’t know what else us coaches can do to make this league better,” Martin said after Auburn rallied from a 14-point first half deficit to beat the Gamecocks. “Right now, you got high-level basketball every single night by every single team in the league.
“That’s going to make for an unbelievable conference tournament.”
Only Carolina, Missouri (fifth) and Arkansas (sixth) were correctly placed in the preseason poll. Auburn, which has its first league title since 1999, was pegged for a ninth-place finish. Tennessee, which claims a share of the title with an identical 13-5 record, was picked 13th in October.
Joe Lunardi’s latest NCAA Tournament projection, posted to ESPN.com Saturday, has eight SEC teams in the Big Dance. That would be a league record.
Speaking Wednesday following the overtime loss to South Carolina, LSU coach Will Wade used “wild” to describe the outlook for St. Louis.
“I think anyone probably one through 10 can probably win the thing,” Wade said. “It’ll probably be as good a conference tournament as you’ll see in a major conference.
“The league’s so good. Really good players. Really, really good coaches. I think there’s a lot of ballclubs that could win, for sure. It’ll be a competitive, competitive tournament.”
Wade’s Tigers beat Mississippi State on Saturday to earn the 10-seed and a first round bye. They have wins this season over Michigan, Houston, Texas A&M (twice), Arkansas (twice) and Missouri.
USC has wins over Auburn, Florida and Kentucky.
Even the last-place Rebels boast a résumé that includes wins over Florida, Alabama and Missouri. Vandy, seeded 13th, beat the third-seeded Gators two weeks ago.
“Who knows who’s going to win? Heck, going into (Saturday) Kentucky was probably playing better than anybody, and they lost by 18 or whatever on the road (to Florida),” Martin said. “Auburn, the way they play, they’re hard to beat. Tennessee … it’s a crazy league.
“Vanderbilt, pretty good team, but you sit there and never watch them play and look at their record and say, ‘Oh, they stink.’ No, they don’t. They’re real good. They have seniors. They know how to play. Bryce (Drew) has done a good job.
“I don’t know. Next week’s going to be insane. I have no idea. Who would you say is the favorite? It’s unbelievable.”
South Carolina hasn’t won a game in the SEC tournament since 2015, the last time it was the No. 11 seed.
“We are going to practice, we are going to fight,” said senior guard Frank Booker after he scored a career-high 27 points against Auburn. “It’s not over. As a leader on this team, I will make sure that our guys know that.
“We have to practice hard and make sure that we’re ready for a (five)-game tournament.”