No Sure Thing - Are The Gamecocks In The NCAAs?

Dave Odom's South Carolina Gamecocks are going into the SEC Tournament unknowing. Are they a lock for the NCAAs or not? While many of the services such as ESPN and CBS Sportsline have USC already bracketed; there is more to the puzzle than meets the eye ...

The Gamecocks enter the tournament at 21-9 and on the bubble. They are not a lock by any stretch of the imagination. However, they are in relatively good shape, all things considered, to gain a bid regardless of their first round SEC Tournament results. Here is how it all shakes out and what it will take for South Carolina to receive a bid to the Big Dance.

USC has drawn the best possible match-up for their first round game with the possible exception of Ole Miss. Arkansas is young, but their quickness on the perimeter, and their tournament history and tradition, offsets any advantage Carolina might have fielded in outside quickness and experience of their own. Still, we'll not speculate on the possible outcome of that game in this piece, instead we will simply provide you with the basic facts and our informed input and let you decide USC's chances.

The ten member tournament selection committee will meet Thursday night and submit their "lock" sheets. Actually, they will check into their rooms, their sheets will be waiting on them, and late in the night those sheets will be gathered and tabulated by the number crunchers. On those sheets the members will check the names of the schools in which there is absolutely no doubt in their minds deserve to be, or have earned their way in through automatic tournament berths, in the NCAA Tournament. We're not completely sure about this but were told those already earning auto bids, their names will be at the top of the list so we assume the committee members will only be checking names not yet auto qualified.

The Gamecocks will not make any, much less all ten of those lists no matter how well they do in Atlanta - the first game will not have yet been played.

In order for the Gamecocks to make the first count, they will have to be listed on all ten sheets as 'locks,' and that will not happen on Day One - no way. So for anyone to list USC as a 'lock' is ludicrous.

Day Two of the selection process comes early Friday morning when the teams who received 80% of the votes are relisted on another set of sheets and again, the selection committee members choose those based upon the previous night's results and second thoughts for some. If SC has won their first game in the SEC Tournament, then in all likelihood they will receive their bid (at least on paper) at that time - round two.

However, if he Gamecocks were to do the unthinkable and lose to Arkansas, this is what will happen next.

Beginning Friday afternoon the committee begins watching the tournaments closely. As/if certain teams, and there will be very few of those, down the list on the bubble win games in their tournaments, their stock will rise. In the meantime the selection committee will have a chalk board of sorts going. On that board they will list the bubble teams, those on the cusp. There will be columns out to the right of each team's name. Those columns are as follows from left to right.

  1. School Name
  2. Overall Record
  3. L-10
  4. Good Wins
  5. Bad Losses
  6. Key Notes

For the Gamecocks it will look something like this:

Name Record L-10 Good Wins Bad Losses Key Notes
South Carolina 21-10 3-7* NC State, Alabama
Vandy X2, LSU
Kentucky @ Home Ro Howell out

Now for a breakdown:
South Carolina

  1. 21-9 regular season, 1 and out in the SEC Tournament.
  2. Finished regular season 3-7, *1 loss in the SEC tournament makes it 3-8.
  3. NC State, Alabama and Vandy are all good wins although three of those came at home and one on the road against Vandy. LSU is struggling as well toward the end of the season so that win is somewhat diminished.
  4. Losing to Kentucky at home was a bad loss, but the saving grace may have been that USC fought back and closed the gap to under 20 after being down by as many as 30. Also, the committee may take into account Kentucky's recent roll, their final games, especially if they win the SEC Tourney outright.
  5. The loss of Rolando Howell, combined with the USC slide since his injury, will play into the selection committee's decision.

Other considerations that the selection committee will take into account which USC has no control over are the number of available slots remaining by this point in the process. This season the PAC 10 and Big 10 are down. Normally they would combine to fill twelve to thirteen spots in the tournament. This year they may combine to fill five or six. However, there have been a few surprises in various conference tournaments that cause a few of those slots to be already filled by automatic berth. Gamecock fans need to hope for no more surprises unless it is their own USC ball club winning a tournament and receiving an automatic bid. Remember, this is a human process and ofttimes favoritism plays into final decisions for those teams not gaining automatic berths or early lock nods.

Finally, for the bubble teams, it will come down to their individual RPI, strength of schedule, and the conference in which they compete. For the Gamecocks playing in the SEC this is a major plus. The SEC has been the number one or two most powerfully-rated conference in the country all season long. Put a check mark in the plus column for the Gamecocks. Then, USC's RPI as of now is somewhere around 42. They have won five games against teams ranked in the Top 30 of the RPI. Put a second check mark in the plus column for the home team good guys.

Still on the bubble!

So how important is the first round tourney game verses Arkansas? Based upon our sources, beat writers from the AP, coaches who have been involved in the process in past years, and our own people within the program ... The Gamecocks must win that first tournament game in order to receive a bid.

Strangely enough, we kept hearing one reoccurring theme from everyone we talked to and it focused not on any or all of the above, but on one thing - Mental Image. The Gamecocks are 21-9. They are the bubble team of all bubble teams in the country - a real enigma to anyone attempting to predict their fate. But one thing was repeated to us over and over. "They do not want to pick up that 10th loss without another win," ... "No double-digit losses with only 21 wins and they will be invited to the dance."

The bottom line is that it is six of one and half a dozen of the other. The magic number for teams used to be twenty. From what we have gathered it was elevated a couple of years ago, proportionately with the increased number of games being played on today's schedules. These days the magic number of wins is twenty-two (22), and once you hit that number you are in if you have played .500 ball within your conference, if your conference is ranked in the Top 5 conferences, and no matter how many losses are showing to the right of your wins. Therefore, beating Arkansas is an absolute must in our opinions. A first round loss and the Gamecocks will be N.I.T. bound unless certain things, key losses to other bubble teams, happen in other tournaments that fall squarely in USC's favor.

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