USC Men's Basketball

USC schedule analysis: How the Gamecocks can position themselves for NCAA Tournament

South Carolina coach Frank Martin felt, going in, the Gamecocks last season were facing their toughest schedule since he became coach in 2012.

What happened next was Michigan started 17-0, Auburn made the Final Four and Virginia won the national title. These Gamecock opponents were among the highlights for a slate that, according to KenPom.com, made USC’s the country’s 29th most difficult schedule. Only the 2016-17 season, No. 24 in KenPom’s final schedule rankings, was more challenging for a Martin-coached Carolina team.

The Gamecocks went 16-16 in 2018-19. They missed the postseason not so much for their conference performance — 11-7 record, No. 4 seed in the SEC Tournament — but for their shortcomings in non-conference games. They played eight non-conference games that were placed in the top three quadrants of the NCAA’s scheduling evaluator, winning one (Coastal Carolina). They lost a Quadrant 4 game at Wyoming.

The quadrant system, adopted two years ago by the NCAA, puts greater emphasis on games played on neutral courts and in true road environments. NET rankings, which replaced the RPI last year as a main evaluating tool for the NCAA tournament selection committee, help with quadrants. A breakdown:

Quadrant 1: Home game vs. NET 1-30; Neutral vs. 1-50; Away vs. 1-75.

Quadrant 2: Home 31-75; Neutral 51-100; Away 76-135.

Quadrant 3: Home 76-160; Neutral 101-200; Away 136-240.

Quadrant 4: Home 161-plus; Neutral 201-plus; Away 241-plus.

South Carolina on Tuesday released its non-conference schedule for the 2019-20 season. While NET rankings won’t be known until the season gets underway, college basketball numbers guru Ken Pomeroy already has his projections. For example, South Carolina will enter the season No. 57 in KenPom. What about USC’s non-conference opponents?

Use KenPom as a replacement for NET and here’s how the November and December portions of USC’s schedule breaks down:

Quadrant 1 games (3): At Virginia (6), at Clemson (69), Houston (23)

Quad 2 games (2): Neutral vs. Wichita State (68), neutral vs. West Virginia (65)*

Quad 3 games (1): Neutral vs. Northern Iowa (118)*

Quad 4 games (8): North Alabama (272), Wyoming (269), Cleveland State (297), Boston University (232), Gardner-Webb (208), George Washington (244), at UMass (281), Stetson (333)

*Note USC will play either West Virginia OR Northern Iowa to wrap the Cancun Challenge on Nov. 27.

In the very least, South Carolina should far surpass its 5-8 showing from last year’s non-conference. There’s a realistic chance to be 10-3 or better entering SEC play — with a Quad 1 win. From there, it’s an 18-game slate that includes games against seven teams projected by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi to make the NCAA Tournament.

KenPom ranked South Carolina’s 2018-19 non-conference schedule No. 99 nationally. That made for the fifth-toughest among SEC teams. The Gamecocks last season played four Q1 games in the non-conference, two Q2, two Q3 and 4 Q4. (The Dec. 31 win over North Greenville wasn’t recognized because the Crusaders compete at the Division II level.)

South Carolina’s 2019-20 basketball schedule

Reigning NCAA Tournament teams in bold

Nov. 6 — North Alabama

Nov. 10 — Wyoming

Nov. 15 — Cleveland State

Nov. 19 — Boston University (Cancun Challenge, Columbia, S.C.)

Nov. 22 — Gardner-Webb (Cancun Challenge, Columbia, S.C.)

Nov. 26 — Wichita State (Cancun Challenge, Cancun, Mexico)

Nov. 27 — West Virginia OR Northern Iowa (Cancun Challenge, Cancun, Mexico)

Dec. 1 — George Washington

Dec. 4 — at UMass

Dec. 8 — Houston

Dec. 15 — at Clemson

Dec. 22 — at Virginia

Dec. 30 — Stetson

SEC games

TBA — Tennessee

TBA — at Tennessee

TBA — Texas A&M

TBA — at Texas A&M

TBA — Georgia

TBA — at Georgia

TBA — Vanderbilt

TBA — at Vanderbilt

TBA — Mississippi State

TBA — at Mississippi State

TBA — Kentucky

TBA — LSU

TBA — Missouri

TBA — Florida

TBA — at Alabama

TBA — at Arkansas

TBA — at Auburn

TBA — at Ole Miss

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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