They just don’t want to take a chance.
“We’ll approach trying to win an SEC championship. The NCAA Tournament, that’s after the conference tournament,” SEC Player of the Year Sindarius Thornwell said. “Our main focus is winning and advancing and trying to win the tournament. That’s the only thing we’re focusing on right now.”
Not that South Carolina looked ahead last year. It wanted to beat Georgia in the SEC tournament quarterfinals, and J.J. Frazier drove a stake through their hearts. Still, they left Nashville on Friday night knowing they might have to go to Dayton for a First Four game, but they were in the NCAA tournament.
By noon Saturday, they were out. Projections dropped them, more upsets began happening and after one of the nuttiest 36 hours in recent history, the prediction was upheld.
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Power-5 conference teams with 24-8 records don’t get left out. USC did.
Which is why, even though they seem to be assured of the Dance heading into Friday’s SEC tournament quarterfinal, they’re still triple-checking the reservation.
“We have to approach it as a weeklong commitment,” coach Frank Martin said. “We’ve got to make sure our guys are in a good place mentally to go at these games, because they’re all so hard in this league.”
The resume that was dissected last year seems to be safely preserved in cold storage this year. The Gamecocks are 22-9, 12-6 SEC and finished fourth in the league. They beat one of the top two teams in the league. Their RPI is 32 with a strength-of-schedule rated 37, far above last year’s totals.
By Thursday’s numbers, USC was 4-5 against the Top 50 in RPI and 12-8 against the Top 100. It beat Monmouth, Michigan, Syracuse and Vermont and topped Georgia and Tennessee on the road.
Bracketology considers the Gamecocks a lock, maybe as high as a 6 seed. That couldn’t change in the span of two days, right?
Yes, it can. Unlikely, impossible ... it can.
So the Gamecocks are thinking of Friday and trying to get to Saturday, then trying to get to Sunday. Then, they’ll gather in Nashville or Columbia to watch the selection broadcast.
Sunday’s coming. After Friday.
“All of this is good, but the main focus is winning and advancing,” Thornwell said. “Only important thing that matters is taking care of business of whoever we end up playing on Friday and making it to Saturday.”
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Who: Alabama (18-13) vs. South Carolina (22-9)
When: Approximately 3:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tenn.
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 107.5 FM
Alabama’s probable starters: G Dazon Ingram 6-5 Fr. (10.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg); F Braxton Key 6-8 Fr. (12.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg); G/F Riley Norris 6-7 Jr. (9.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg); F Jimmie Taylor 6-10 Sr. (5.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg); F Bola Olaniyan 6-7 Sr. (2.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg)
South Carolina’s probable starters: G P.J. Dozier 6-6 So. (13.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg); G Sindarius Thornwell 6-5 Sr. (21.2 ppg, 7.3 rpg); G Duane Notice 6-2 Sr. (10.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg); G Hassani Gravett 6-1 So. (3.8 ppg, 1.7 rpg); F Chris Silva 6-9 So. (9.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg)
Next game: The winner plays the Georgia-Kentucky winner at 1 p.m. Saturday.