It’s not as though there was any doubt before, but now it’s officially official: South Carolina women’s basketball will play in its seventh straight NCAA tournament.
With a victory over Mississippi State in the SEC tournament championship game on Sunday, the Gamecocks secured an automatic bid to the Big Dance, the fifth team in the country to do so.
But we all already knew that. As the No. 8 team in the country, USC has been included in the NCAA selection committee top-16 rankings all year long. The question now, as it has been for several years, is what seed and region of the bracket South Carolina will receive?
The selection committee’s final top-16 reveal before Selection Monday came on Feb. 19, and in those rankings, Dawn Staley’s team was a No. 2 seed, but in probably the worst region possible — Albany, New York, where No. 1 overall seed UConn is expected to have huge fan support and easy travel.
Since then, several other pundits and publications have tried to project the 64-team field and South Carolina’s place in it, but Sunday’s win has the potential to upend all of that, as Mississippi State was heavily favored to win.
The Summitt’s Russell Steinberg is predicting probably the best possible outcome for USC: A No. 2 seed in the Lexington, Kentucky, region. That placement would keep South Carolina as close to home as it could hope for and allow more fans to easily travel and support the Gamecocks.
ESPN’s Charlie Creme has a distinctly gloomier outlook as far as USC is concerned. His most recent projection echoes the selection committee’s last reveal with the Gamecocks as a No. 2 seed in an Albany region topped by Connecticut, and even after Sunday’s result, he said on the air that he believes South Carolina will still end up in that spot, despite upsetting the No. 2 team in the nation.
Staley was asked about where she felt the Gamecocks deserved to be after the win, and she gave a diplomatic answer deferring to the committee, but she has expressed frustration in the past with the regions her team has been placed in, forcing them to travel across the country.
“I think what we did was control our own destiny, and then it’s in somebody else’s hands to decide where we go,” Staley said Sunday. “Obviously we can’t do anything about it once it’s announced, but besides win our tournament and see if that puts us in a great place where our fans can attend the games.”
Connecticut and Louisville both seem to have No. 1 seeds locked up, and Mississippi State, with only one loss, is almost certain to receive one as well. Notre Dame and Baylor are considered the top contenders for the fourth and final No. 1 seed, and after those schools, Oregon, Texas and UCLA are all competing with South Carolina, not only for No. 2 seeds, but also for the most favorable regions.
Selection Monday will take place March 12 and will be televised on ESPN at 7 p.m.