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March 7, 2009GamecockCentral.com traveled to Athens, Ga., to cover the South Carolina-Georgia men's basketball game.
ATHENS, Ga. -- South Carolina's shot at the NCAA tournament became a bit stronger after Saturday's 68-51 win over Georgia, but it's far from putting the Gamecocks in for sure.
The SEC standings have become so jumbled in the final two weeks of the regular season that it's hard to tell who's in and who's out. A definite in would be regular-season champion LSU, despite two losses to finish the year. Other teams in consideration are Tennessee, USC, Florida, Kentucky and now Auburn.
The Tigers leaped into the picture by beating LSU on Saturday, improving to 21-10, 10-6 in the league. Since the league was divided into the East and West for the 1991-92 season, no 10-win SEC team has ever missed the NCAA tournament (an 11-5 Georgia team in 2002-03 wasn't eligible due to probation).
The Volunteers, Gamecocks, and both sets of Tigers won at least 10 games. Florida only went 9-7 but is 22-9 overall. Kentucky may have played its way into having to win the SEC tournament to go anywhere, falling to Florida on Saturday and finishing 19-12, 8-8.
USC's RPI is in the Top 50 but the Gamecocks haven't beaten anybody else in the Top 50. That's why a team like Auburn, which leaped into the discussion after beating LSU, has to be considered -- and why it may make winning a game or two in Tampa that much more important.
Have the Gamecocks done enough?
"Just a personal opinion, but I think so," declared USC forward Mike Holmes.
OUT: Guard Brandis Raley-Ross did not play against Georgia, sitting out on suspension. Coach Darrin Horn announced it beforehand, saying it was an academic instance.
Raley-Ross should be ready for the SEC tournament opener.
Branden Conrad, who only played against Tennessee so he could get a Senior Night ovation, checked in for extended time against Georgia and produced four rebounds, an assist and a steal. He played 16 minutes after being out (save for the UT brief) since Dec. 18.
"You don't take care of your academics in the way that we expect you to or handle them in the right fashion, you're not going to play," Horn said. "We did that with a young man today in a game that really counted. When you're building a program and not just trying to win the next game, that's what you do."
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION: With his coach, national media and others promoting him for SEC Player of the Year, guard Devan Downey was asked if he thought he deserved it.
"No," he answered. "Not really. There's some other guys in this league who deserve it. But I can't control all that."
Postseason awards will be announced before the SEC tournament. The league's coaches and The Associated Press (12-14 reporters across the Southeast) each have their own set of awards.
Downey's contributions (20.1 points, 4.5 assists, 3.0 steals) certainly can't be ignored and it seems certain he'll repeat as a consensus first-team All-SEC selection. His chief competition for player of the year figures to be Kentucky's Jodie Meeks (25.0 points) and LSU's Tasmin Mitchell (16.8 points, 7.3 rebounds) or Marcus Thornton (20.9 points, 6.1 rebounds).
"I'm going to be biased, but when you talk about one individual that's impacted a team's ability to win and win, it's hard for me to argue that anybody's done a better job of that," Horn said.
REALLY?: Evka Baniulis, while speaking of the energy and enthusiasm the Gamecocks showed in Saturday's second half, seemed surprised at his rebounding total as well.
"Seven rebounds?," he wondered.
The forward, known more for his 3-point shooting prowess, also grabbed seven in the season-opener and on Feb. 21 vs. Arkansas. His career-high was nine against Winthrop earlier this year.
NEW TOGS: The Gamecocks left Stegeman Coliseum with their warmup suits on, but Downey and Baniulis had their jackets unzipped to show off their T-shirts. It was a variation of The Garnet Army shirts, but theirs were olive drab, gray, white and brown.
You know, plain camouflage.
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