South Carolina enters Selection Sunday as nervous as a teenager in a horror movie. The Gamecocks think they’re in, but Friday’s loss to Georgia in the SEC tournament had USC perched squarely back on the NCAA bubble.
Five storylines as USC prepares for a queasy day:
1. IS IT ENOUGH?
Numbers are being tossed about like tennis balls at Wimbledon. By the sheer look of it, USC’s 24-8 record (11-7 in the SEC, good for third place) is more than enough. But the Georgia loss dropped USC’s RPI into the 60s, and its strength of schedule was never going to improve that much (around 123 is the most common number). Right now, the Gamecocks look like a mid-major team that won a whole lot of games, but only a couple that were significant. It also doesn’t help that in the eyes of the selection, USC only has 23 wins – Francis Marion, as a non-Division I team, doesn’t count.
2. BIG JOE
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi is usually dead-on with his tournament projections, as in nailing nearly the entire field every season. He still had USC in after the Georgia game, although others (Jerry Palm) had USC out. If there was one guy you had to trust, it’d be Lunardi, but the others talking of USC’s soft schedule has the Gamecocks searching for Maalox. Lunardi also said USC has “kind of a hold-your-nose resume,” and that was before the Georgia game.
3. BAD DAWGS
Georgia is fighting for its own tournament berth and has a better RPI and better strength of schedule. Its main problem is having a few too many losses, despite many to strong teams. While it beat USC three times, it didn’t beat any RPI Top 50 teams. USC has one Top-50 win (Texas A&M) and finished above Georgia in the conference standings, so if there was a choice for a third SEC team (which seems to be all the league will get), USC would probably eke ahead. The Bulldogs losing to Kentucky on Saturday helped the Gamecocks’ cause and several other bubble teams losing (LSU, Michigan) also helped.
Would the committee give USC a slight break for that Georgia loss, knowing that its best player (Michael Carrera) didn’t play? Perhaps, but here’s what’s working against that – the Gamecocks won at Arkansas (on the road, not at a neutral site) without Carrera, and the Gamecocks didn’t beat Georgia with Carrera in two previous opportunities. And the selection chair made it quite clear that not having a key player doesn’t excuse the loss.
Whatever USC’s NCAA fate is, it would be a crying shame if Carrera couldn’t play in his final game with the Gamecocks. He deserves to play as a reward for his stubborn refusal to accept defeat over the past four years, and he deserves to play in the NCAA tournament. It would be tremendously unfair if he doesn’t get that opportunity.
Of course, we all know life isn’t fair.
5. WHAT IF?
If the Gamecocks don’t make it to the NCAAs, the NIT would almost certainly invite them. I’m wondering about two things – 1, would USC accept; and 2, would it host?
There’s the appeal of continuing to play, of giving the seniors one last shot at a championship, but after coming so close to the NCAAs and not getting there, I have no idea of the Gamecocks’ mentality. Would it be like in 2009, when USC was close to the NCAAs and didn’t get in, and while it accepted an NIT bid, it sleepwalked through a home loss to Davidson because nobody was really interested in playing? I suppose the team could vote on whether or not to play.
As for hosting, USC would have that opportunity. But the NIT would start on Tuesday or Wednesday, and the USC women are going to host NCAA tournament games, perhaps starting Friday. Not sure of the logistics of the kind of turnaround, although I’m sure Colonial Life Arena could handle it.
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