Come March, do the South Carolina women want to be a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, but get to stay close to home? Or would USC rather earn its fifth straight No. 1 seed and travel across the country, again?
Those are two possible paths laid out for the Gamecocks, according to NCAA bracket projections released at the start of 2018.
On one hand, ESPN’s Charlie Creme slots Dawn Staley’s team as a No. 2 seed in the Lexington, Kentucky, region, the closest of all the regionals to Columbia. However, according to Creme, the Gamecocks would be behind No. 1 seed Mississippi State, the SEC champion, who would play atop the Spokane, Washington, portion of the bracket.
On the other, College Sports Madness places USC as a No. 1 seed, which would mark a half-decade as a top seed for South Carolina. However, College Sports Madness’s predicted bracket has the Gamecocks in the Spokane region.
The question of how far South Carolina must go to play should it advance to the Sweet 16 was one Dawn Staley spoke out on last season when the Gamecocks were granted a No. 1 seed in the Stockton, California, region.
“I think our body of work speaks to a lot closer than where we were placed,” Staley said at the time. “I don’t know what more we can do.”
For the 2016 tournament, South Carolina was also sent far from home, to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. In 2015, the first time the team made the Final Four, it stayed close, playing in Greensboro, North Carolina.
So far this season, South Carolina’s status as a top team deserving of a No. 1 seed is not as completely secure as it has been in years past. While the Associated Press has the Gamecocks ranked No. 4 in the country, the USA Today coaches poll has Dawn Staley’s squad at No. 5, just outside top-seed range and behind the undefeated Mississippi State. In the NCAA’s RPI rankings, South Carolina is all the way down at No. 12.
In both ESPN and College Sports Madness’s projections, the SEC would place fewer teams in the tournament than it did last season, when it led the nation with eight selections. ESPN predicts that six teams from the conference will receive an invite — USC, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Missouri, Texas A&M and Georgia. The bracket from College Sports Madness has most of the same group, subbing out Georgia for Arkansas and LSU for seven total teams.