South Carolina is strutting into Selection Monday.
Like the last two years, the Gamecocks know they’re one of the four top seeds for the NCAA Women’s Tournament, and like last year, they feel very comfortable that they’re the No. 2 national seed behind Connecticut. They’ll walk into Colonial Life Arena for a party.
Five storylines as USC prepares for an easy day:
1. WHERE TO?
It seems assured that the Gamecocks will be the top seed in the Lexington Regional. While Notre Dame is ahead of them in the polls, the Irish aren’t ahead in the NCAA’s eyes. The NCAA’s listing of top-10 teams has consistently had USC as No. 2 overall behind UConn, meaning that USC should get Lexington and Notre Dame should get Sioux Falls (UConn stays home in Bridgeport, Baylor in Dallas). I’m wondering who else will be placed there with the Gamecocks, leading to a potential matchup at Rupp Arena – I heard some rumblings on Saturday that Kentucky may be a No. 3 seed in that regional, which could mean a fourth matchup this year between the two rivals.
2. WHO ELSE IS NO. 1?
It will be the least surprising news of the selection show. UConn, USC, Notre Dame and Baylor (combined record: 126-3) are the four No. 1 seeds. Notre Dame and USC each have a single loss (UConn) and went undefeated in their conferences and conference tournaments. Baylor lost its Big 12 opener to Oklahoma State, then ran the table. UConn is once again perfect on the season.
The four No. 1s each advanced to the Final Four last year. Repeat?
3. QUEENS OF THE SEC
No doubt that USC was the best team in the SEC, becoming only the second team in league history to go 19-0 through a season. But a SEC team might again appear on the Gamecocks’ schedule, and at the most important time of the season.
The SEC could tie a league record by getting nine teams into the NCAA tournament (USC, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Kentucky, Missouri, Auburn, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia). There’s only so many places where the teams can go without eventually running into each other, although like the men’s tournament, the women’s tournament will not match teams that have already played each other in the first round. Obviously, there’s no rule for the second or third rounds.
The Gamecocks might see one of these teams again, with a lot more than a league record at stake.
4. THE OTHER SIDE
It also seems assured that, like last year, USC and UConn will be on opposite sides of the bracket. They wouldn’t meet until the national championship game. Of course, the Gamecocks have said they’d love a rematch, because as Dawn Staley says, iron sharpens iron. USC would have five games to really get itself to peak efficiency before that could happen and be ready to take out the Huskies for the only prize Staley hasn’t won.
Another way of looking at it – five other teams have a chance to beat UConn before USC, and I’m sure the Gamecocks wouldn’t mind if one of them pulled it off.
5. THIS IS IT
The Gamecocks have had a magnificent season. Despite losing crucial pieces of last year’s Final Four team, USC improved and only lost once while playing a much more difficult schedule. They have earned the tag as one of the country’s best teams.
But they knew all along they’d be judged only by what they do starting this week. That’s life as a top team. You enjoy tournament bids, but they’re not that big a deal since you knew you were going to be there. It’s all about March and what you do there – the regular season, historic or not, is an exhibition.
USC ended the SEC tournament with two dominating performances. It was the best the Gamecocks have looked all season – displaying the full talent of the roster and adding attitude. They have to have that every night going forward.
If they can do that six times, they’ll add one more ring to already-brimming fingers.
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