USC Men's Basketball

Another SEC coach makes USC’s NCAA Tournament case. So what’s left for Carolina to do?

‘What happened to number four’ Frank Martin on NCAA Tournament hopes

South Carolina beat Georgia 66-46 to clinch the 4-seed in the SEC Tournament Saturday March 9, 2019, at Colonial Life Arena, in Columbia, SC.
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South Carolina beat Georgia 66-46 to clinch the 4-seed in the SEC Tournament Saturday March 9, 2019, at Colonial Life Arena, in Columbia, SC.

If Kermit Davis, Ben Howland and Tom Crean were on the 2019 NCAA Tournament selection committee, South Carolina would be locked in with an at-large bid.

Georgia’s Crean on Saturday, following words of Ole Miss’ Davis and Mississippi State’s Howland from previous weeks, joined the chorus of SEC coaches calling the Gamecocks worthy of the Big Dance.

“There should be absolutely zero question — not just because I’m in the league and not just because I like those guys — there should be zero question that that’s an NCAA Tournament team,” Crean said following USC’s 66-46 rout of the Bulldogs. “You’re not going to find anybody in any league that wants to deal with that team. And deal with that level of toughness. And they’re so skilled now, so skilled at being able to make plays.”

South Carolina (16-15 overall) finished 11-7 in the SEC and will be the No. 4 seed at this week’s SEC Tournament in Nashville. That’s the part of the résumé Frank Martin wants highlighted, circled and starred.

The USC coach made it clear Saturday that he’s disappointed in the outside framing (or lack thereof) of his team’s postseason chances. “Embarrassing” is what he called a graphic that was apparently posted during a recent SEC Network show.

“The SEC Now show listed the teams in the league, their standings and their NCAA (Tournament) possibilities,” Martin said. “I didn’t see the show, but everyone’s confirmed this is what happened. They listed No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, they had a blank space on No. 4 and then they listed 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9.

“And they created an argument why all those teams belonged in the NCAA Tournament. That’s awesome. What happened to No. 4?”

Joe Lunardi, in the projected bracket posted to ESPN.com on Friday, has eight SEC teams making the Big Dance. Those eight teams range from the league’s first-place finisher (LSU) to 10th-place finisher (Alabama). Missing, of course, is South Carolina.

Greg Shaheen, a former NCAA Tournament director who’s been described as knowing the “nuances of Selection Sunday” better than anyone, was asked about USC’s case during the Indianapolis-based Dan Dakich Show on Friday.

“They have to do real damage in their conference tournament,” Shaheen said, “and be able to show what they’re able to do. In all honesty, it’s probably a bit of a stretch — it’s probably a real stretch. I understand the injuries, but injuries and so forth have to be taken into account.

“But you look overall at the conference (record), there’s nothing to be embarrassed about in terms of the some of the analytics and so forth. They’re very strong. If (Martin) can do something in Nashville, you never know.”

Dakich then pressed further, asking Shaheen what exactly it would take for Carolina to punch a Big Dance ticket. How far do the Gamecocks need to go in Nashville for an at-large bid?

“(Martin’s) going to have to be doing the honky-tonk into the weekend,” Shaheen said, “and I’d say he needs to be in the championship game and probably lose at the buzzer.”

A variety of factors can help make Carolina’s case. There’s the seven quadrant one and quadrant two wins. That’s more than five teams of the 16 Lunardi has “on the bubble,” including Florida. There’s the top-four stay in the SEC standings the entire conference season. There’s a strength of schedule ranking of 37, which is better than the likes of Big Dance locks Tennessee, Texas Tech, Michigan, Florida State and Virginia Tech. There’s the fact that eight USC players — including four starters — have missed a combined 125 games because of injury, football responsibility or an eligibility issue.

The case against the Gamecocks starts with a 5-8 non-conference record and two quadrant four losses (to Stony Brook and Wyoming).

“At the end of the day,” Martin said, “what’s the difference whether you’re 5-8 in non-league play or 6-12 in league play? What’s the difference? So the teams that are 6-12 in league play are on the bubble with similar records to us? Or maybe they have two or three more wins because they played six guarantee games? Come on, man.

“Why don’t we start speaking about this league evenly and fairly for all the teams that belong and don’t belong? Because, when I do watch, the people that cover the other leagues, they got you convinced that the 12th-place team is better than the second-place team in our league.”

South Carolina can, of course, earn an automatic NCAA Tournament bid by winning the SEC Tournament. The Gamecocks, after a double-bye, will face either 5-seed Auburn, 12-seed Missouri or 13-seed Georgia in a Friday quarterfinal game at Bridgestone Arena.

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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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