USC Men's Basketball

Another coach joins growing chorus calling South Carolina an NCAA Tournament team

‘Eventually it came apart at the seams.’ Frank Martin recaps USC’s loss at MSU

Frank Martin recaps South Carolina’s 76-61 loss to Mississippi State on Feb. 23, 2019, in Starkville.
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Frank Martin recaps South Carolina’s 76-61 loss to Mississippi State on Feb. 23, 2019, in Starkville.

Ben Howland’s coached in 29 NCAA Tournament games since making his Big Dance debut with Northern Arizona in 1998. He’s been to five Sweet 16s, three Final Fours and led UCLA to a national runner-up finish in 2006.

“I know what an NCAA Tournament team looks like,” Howland said Saturday after helping Mississippi State to a 76-61 win over South Carolina. “That’s one that we played today.”

The Gamecocks dropped to 14-13 overall and 9-5 and into a tie for fourth place in the SEC standings with the latest result. They led the Bulldogs (20-7, 8-6) by 16 points with four minutes to go in the first half before being overwhelmed by a team pegged this week by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi as a No. 6 seed for the NCAA Tournament.

“I told the guys at halftime, ‘Hey, we can’t play any worse than we did those first 10 minutes,’” Howland said. “And a lot of it was South Carolina.

“South Carolina is a really, really good basketball team. They’re coming here to beat us to get in the NCAA Tournament. Their only losses in our league are Tennessee twice, at LSU, at Kentucky. They’re very good. That’s an NCAA Tournament team we beat today.”

The SEC’s Mississippi coaches have been high on the Gamecocks this week. Following a 79-64 loss to USC on Tuesday, Ole Miss leader Kermit Davis went as far as saying Carolina could do damage in the Big Dance.

“If they can get to the (NCAA) Tournament,” Davis said, “they sure can win games in the tournament.”

Lunardi’s latest bracket projection, updated Friday morning, had Carolina among his last eight teams out for the field of 68.

The trip to Humphrey Coliseum was likely USC’s last opportunity for a fourth “quadrant one” win this regular season. KenPom.com gives the Gamecocks at least a 38 percent chance to win their last four games, starting with Tuesday’s home clash with Alabama (16-11, 7-7).

South Carolina coach Frank Martin said Tuesday that if a team gets 12 SEC wins, it has a legitimate case for the Big Dance.

“(If a team wins) 12 league games in the SEC and doesn’t get in the NCAA tournament,” Martin said, “I think that would be a travesty. I think that would be as sad as sad can be.”

South Carolina coach Frank Martin talks “bubble” after the Gamecocks beat Ole Miss on Feb. 19, 2019, in Columbia.

Andrew Ramspacher has been covering college athletics since 2010, serving as The State’s USC men’s basketball beat writer since October 2017. His work has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors, Virginia Press Association and West Virginia Press Association. At a program-listed 5-foot-10, he’s always been destined to write about the game. Not play it.

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