Such is the situation at South Carolina that even with an eye on the bruised hip of Michael Carrera – which may keep him out of Friday’s first game in the SEC tournament – the Gamecocks are feeling good.
Despite the shade being cast their way in terms of the NCAA tournament (“They have kind of a hold-your-nose resume,” said ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi, while conceding the Gamecocks are probably in), USC feels very strong that it will be playing next week no matter what.
And for the first time in a dozen years, it will be in the NCAA tournament.
“I’ll say this -- if winning 24 games, 11 BCS conference games, finishing third in a BCS conference is not good enough to get to an NCAA tournament bid, I need to go back to bouncing,” coach Frank Martin said. “And I don’t say that jokingly, I mean that seriously.”
Martin pointed out that there aren’t any guarantees when it comes to selection committees, but like he said after that, USC’s numbers should be more than enough to overcome any detractors. The Gamecocks were flirting with throwing away something they’d earned, but a win at Arkansas to close the regular season seems to have cemented their foothold.
They’re in. No matter seed or city, they’re in, and win or lose on Friday, they’ll be one of the final 68, which means they have as good of a chance as the other 67 to put it all together, get hot and win six games.
In that sense, potentially not having Carrera isn’t that much of a knock since he could presumably sit out this week and be ready for the really big game. Even a Friday loss wouldn’t be that bad.
Sindarius Thornwell, who led the Gamecocks over the Razorbacks, wasn’t thinking that way. He figured that with USC earning a double-bye and knowing how to win at the SEC tournament (the Gamecocks have won two games in each of the past two years), it might as well try to get this one and remove any lingering doubt.
“We’re still going in with the mindset that we have to win,” Thornwell said. “Trying to make it to the championship game, and win it. That’s the goal.”
The Gamecocks (24-7) will take on Georgia in their first game. USC was 0-2 against the Bulldogs this season.
Not that it matters now. USC swept Georgia last year in the regular season and lost to them in the tournament quarterfinals. “This time of year, you’re not worried about what happened in January and February anymore,” Martin said. “You trust in who you’ve become over the course of the year.”
The Gamecocks have been a team that has answered each time they’ve been challenged. Some really crushing losses have been trumped by some really impressive wins. The group of seniors who fought to get here are just one week away from receiving their reward.
But there is still a week to go, and at least one game to play. Might as well win it too and keep notching posts in an historic season.
“It’s in our mindset to play really well in Nashville,” Mindaugas Kacinas said. “The advantage that we have is we’re more well-rested.”
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SOUTH CAROLINA (24-7) vs. GEORGIA (18-12)
What: SEC tournament quarterfinals
When: Approximately 9:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tenn.
TV: SEC Network
Tickets: Available at the box office
Georgia’s probable starters: G Kenny Gaines 6-3 Sr. (13.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg); G J.J. Frazier 5-10 Jr. (16.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg); G Charles Mann 6-5 Sr. (10.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg); F Derek Ogbeide 6-8 Fr. (4.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg); F Yante Maten 6-8 So. (16.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg)
South Carolina’s probable starters: G Sindarius Thornwell 6-5 Jr. (13.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg); G Duane Notice 6-2 Jr. (11.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg); F Mindaugas Kacinas 6-7 Sr. (10.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg); F Michael Carrera 6-5 Sr. (14.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg); C Laimonas Chatkevicius 6-11 Sr. (9.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
Next game: The winner advances to the semifinals at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.