David Cloninger

USC just needs to win and all will be fine

South Carolina controls its own fate as it heads into the crucial end-of-season stretch. All the Gamecocks have to do is channel Al Davis – “Just win, baby.”

They win and the rest of what I’m about to tell you becomes obsolete. RPI and strength of schedules will combine with number of wins (already at 20, one of around 40 teams of the 351 who have already done it) and the Gamecocks will end their current slog across the wasteland of non-tournament appearances.

If they don’t win, bookmark this handy guide and direct your cheering toward other teams on USC’s schedule. If they win, even if the Gamecocks lost to them, the Gamecocks look better by comparison.

USC’s RPI dropped five spots to 26 Thursday after losing to Arkansas (the Razorbacks jumped 12 spots to 36). Keep calling the Hogs to win so they might get into the tournament as well.

Of the final five opponents, the Gamecocks can be helped by all but one (Mississippi State, 129). Vanderbilt (62), Florida (9), Tennessee (46) and Ole Miss (66) will help USC if USC beats them (especially the Gators) and not hurt them too badly if they lose. That said, they can’t lose to all of them and expect to be happy on Selection Sunday.

USC currently has a 3-3 record against the RPI Top 50 (wins over Florida, Tennessee and Monmouth, losses to Kentucky, Arkansas and Seton Hall). That 50-60 spot, though, could help the Gamecocks if those teams continue to win.

Swallow your pride and pull for Clemson to win, since the Tigers are 51. Do the same for Georgia (52, and USC beat them twice). Vermont (53) and Michigan (58) each fell to USC, so borrow some Catamounts gear and holler “Go Blue!” at every opportunity.

Ole Miss, Alabama, Auburn, Syracuse and Texas A&M are in the bottom 50 of the Top 100. Together, USC has a 11-5 record against the Top 100.

All of them will help USC the second week of March, as it was designed to do. With the message of “You didn’t schedule hard enough” ringing, Frank Martin put together this slate. His team should get some credit even for the games it lost in the non-conference schedule because star Sindarius Thornwell was suspended for those three.

It’s all coming together to benefit the Gamecocks, as long as they take care of their end. The tournament selection committee will look at how teams finish the regular season, and if the Gamecocks can win the majority of their final five (especially at Florida), they don’t have any pressure on them to win in the SEC tournament.

Opportunity glows. USC and several other teams can fan the Gamecocks’ spark into a bonfire.

As long as USC supplies the oxygen.

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