David Cloninger

Commentary: Take a deep breath, USC should be in NCAA tournament

USC’s Sindarius Thornwell
USC’s Sindarius Thornwell tglantz@thestate.com

I wish I could say it was surprising. But it never is.

South Carolina fans seem to cherish receiving bad news. They are the most self-flagellating group I’ve ever seen. Friday night was rare form.

The Gamecocks blew a game to Georgia. There is no question about that. They somehow let the guy they knew was going to get the ball kill them again, and then their best player brain-cramped USC’s chance to win in regulation into a turnover and a game-losing free throw.

Mistakes happen – and Sindarius Thornwell showed more class than all of the USC fans who were exclaiming about how badly he played in those final 10 seconds put together by apologizing afterward – but the fan base, at least those most prevalent on social media, were acting as if coach Frank Martin and his team had just come over to the house and kicked their dogs.

Nearly everyone was hitting me and some of my media brethren with posts suggesting that they WANTED us to tell them it was over, that the Gamecocks had played themselves out of the NCAA tournament. And when all of us said what’s true – that the loss stung, but USC is still clinging by its fingernails to the tournament – some responded with the classic, “Well, they’ll lose in the first round anyway, so why go?”

Really?

You’d rather the Gamecocks not go to the greatest sporting event in the world, like they haven’t for the past 11 years, instead of enjoying what this season has produced? Even if it’s in a First Four game, that’s the tournament, and ending USC’s lengthy tournament losing streak, even there, would count.

Of course, there are some who say winning a First Four game isn’t a “real” win. I’m forwarding that info to VCU and telling the Rams to immediately remove their 2011 Final Four banner because that play-in win didn’t count, so they really only made the Elite Eight, if they even got in the tournament at all.

Perhaps it’s USC athletics, or USC basketball in particular, that causes it. Fans are trained to accept the worst because they’ve seen it so many times before. There is a phrase across USC sports that reads, “Don’t hope. It will only hurt worse” and don’t get me started with the infamous Chicken Curse, which was thought to be buried after the baseball team won back-to-back national titles, but conveniently gets resurrected after every stunning defeat.

The problem is this time, fans think they’re smelling the paper plant when they can’t see it.

Look at the situation. Joe Lunardi, who is usually dead-on when calling which teams get in and which don’t, had USC in a play-in game. His word is good enough for a lot of people.

I can’t ever recall a team that was an absolute lock on Friday being out of the tournament by Sunday. The selection committee would be setting a really bad precedent if it pulled that this year.

The other teams that were fighting for spots lost Saturday. LSU’s not going, Michigan and Georgia were probably one win short. UConn probably will get in, but it looked to be going anyway after that four-OT win over Cincinnati.

The SEC was probably going to get a third team in, and the Gamecocks are in the driver’s seat there. I realize USC has been part of a bad situation before, when it was a 10-win team in the SEC that was left out of the NCAA tournament in 2009. But that team only had 21 wins (this year, USC has 24), 10 in the SEC (11 this year) and beat nobody of significance (that A&M win this year has to count for something).

USC won 24 games and only lost eight. Yes, many of the eight were some real head-scratchers. Yet after every loss, many USC fans, all of whom apparently taught Kareem the hook shot and LeBron how to not make a major announcement, were ready to bury the team and start typing advance prose for if the baseball team again fails to make the NCAA tournament.

The Gamecocks should be in. I know, shoulda-woulda-coulda all you want, but they should be in.

Meet me in Spokane/Denver/Raleigh/Upper Conway-Lower Aynor and I’ll buy you a beer next Thursday or Friday.

Or even in Dayton on Tuesday. I’m not picky.

Nor should you be, when we’re talking about a ninth NCAA tournament appearance in over 75 years.

South Carolina coach Frank Martin says the Gamecocks have done enough to be in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament when the field is announced Sunday.

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