The South Carolina Gamecocks secured their place among the nation's elite basketball teams today with a convincing win over the LSU Tigers in second round action of the SEC Tournament in Atlanta. They left no doubts as to their worth in the eyes of the selection committee. The sheets that go in tonight will have SC's name on them.
So what next?
The two obvious questions are what seed and where? Here is why the game against Kentucky becomes so important.
The NCAA Selection Committee is never kind to lower tier teams selected for bids in the SEC when it comes to where. Kentucky, Mississippi State and maybe Florida will be placed in nearby Regional Sites. All other teams selected from the SEC are at the mercy of the committee. Right now that would appear to be South Carolina, Alabama, Vanderbilt and perhaps LSU. More than likely only six teams from the SEC will be granted bids - with LSU now on the outside of the bubble looking in.
Ideally, Gamecock fans would like to see their basketball team placed in either the Eastern or Southeastern Region for obvious traveling considerations. South Carolina's coaches on the other hand, would probably prefer any regional in either the Eastern or Central time zones. This causes less stress on a basketball team that has played the majority of their games this season EST. Teams that are forced to travel great distances, two or more time zones away, historically have not faired well in NCAA Tournament play.
Seeding is another consideration. Right now the Gamecocks are looking at an 8 or 9 seeding. That could fall to a 10 or 11 with a loss to Kentucky. It could rise to a 6, 7 or 8 with a win over the Cats who are a sure number 1 seed at the moment. The higher the seed the less threatening of an opponent the Gamecocks will be required to play in the first round of the NCAAs.
There is another reason for USC fans to hope their Gamecocks play well against Kentucky in round three Saturday. That reason is confidence. South Carolina appears to be regaining some of their lost confidence in this tournament. It could help their NCAA performance if they were to ride into March Madness on a confidence high. And selection committee members watching games Saturday will recognize a team on a roll - a team playing with a lot of confidence.
South Carolina's two big wins in the SEC Tournament so far, has served to remove the proverbial 'monkey' from their backs as well. They are no longer under the pressure of having to play their way into the Big Dance. Saturday's game is all for fun and pride. No one expects them to win. They will be big underdogs against the vaunted Wildcats. The Gamecocks have nothing to lose and everything to win.
Regional placement, elevated seeding, confidence and pride. Saturday's 1:00 p.m. game in Atlanta being televised on Jefferson Pilot is for more than just another W in the victory column - this one is for fun. And you can bet Dave Odom and his coaches will be preaching the fun aspects of this game to his players between now and then - even knowing that this game really means much much more.
- Rooster Perry
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