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February 17, 2009

USC paying no mind to brackets, polls

South Carolina wasn't in this week's The Associated Press Top 25. Nothing strange about that.

The Gamecocks are more than making up for that lapse by popping up in several online pre-NCAA tournament brackets.

Not that they've noticed.

"We honestly do not pay a lot of attention to that," coach Darrin Horn said, repeating a theme he's stressed this season. "I just think that doesn't have very much to do with what our team has going on right now and what we need to do in our next game. Those are things that are so far beyond your control."

Very true, but that doesn't stop folks from speculating.

At 18-5 (7-3 SEC), tied for first place in their division and a new RPI of 42, the Gamecocks are creeping into several discussions centering on March Madness. Several brackets have USC among their 65-team field.

Two of the most visited, those of ESPN's Joe Lunardi and SI.com's Andy Glockner, have also given the Gamecocks their due. Lunardi, after mentioning USC as firmly in the tournament picture following the Gamecocks' win over Alabama, has ninth-seeded USC playing eighth-seeded Texas in Dayton, Ohio.

Glockner also seeded the Gamecocks ninth, playing eighth-seed Arizona in Kansas City, Mo., although another Sports Illustrated writer, Seth Davis, didn't have USC in his bracket.

Horn says all of the bracketology and polls don't mean anything -- when asked about the rankings on Monday, he replied, "Are we in them?" The first-year coach has said all year that the Gamecocks can only afford to concentrate on their next game, because the only way to keep being successful is to keep winning.

Obviously, winning more games means the hazy tournament picture becomes more sharply defined. Without looking at what waits at the end, the Gamecocks are satisfied with knowing that staying in the win column will produce a chance for glory that Columbia's only seen eight times in 38 years.

"The tournament doesn't start today," guard Brandis Raley-Ross pointed out. "We could lose the rest of our games and nothing matters."

Precisely why they say they're trying not to listen to the ever-increasing chatter about RPI, NCAA placement, league championships and the like. It's been about next game, next game, next game since the week before Jacksonville State.

"It's fun for people to look at it and see," Horn said. "It impacts nothing that has to do with us winning our next game. That's not something that has anything to do with us actually being in, or how we control our next game or what we do today in practice."

The first of the Gamecocks' six-game swing to the regular-season finale is on Wednesday at Mississippi State. Coming off a thrilling win at Alabama, USC immediately turned to that game.

Forward Mike Holmes, who tipped in the game-winner over the Crimson Tide, also tipped his hand that he had at least read the schedule. After MSU, the Gamecocks return to Columbia for a Saturday date with Arkansas, stick around for their second matchup with Kentucky, then play at Vanderbilt, host Tennessee and finish at Georgia.

"We've got to keep winning on the road and also pitch in with wins at home," Holmes said. "That's going to be the big key right there. We got Tennessee and Kentucky at home."

Holmes didn't bypass the MSU game and said the only factor he knew about winning the SEC East -- USC remains in a three-way tie with the Volunteers and Wildcats for first place -- was if the Gamecocks kept winning, everything would take care of itself.

He was right. If the Gamecocks win out, they'll take the division by a game (13-3, over one 12-4 team, provided Florida, Tennessee or Kentucky win out as well). But with six games left and so many matchups and tiebreakers it would take a team of MIT physicists at least an hour to figure them all out, what's the use of looking at it?

Game 1 is MSU. Win it, and then make Game 1 Saturday hosting Arkansas.

When there are no more Game 1s, then the Gamecocks can look around and see where they stand.

"We don't pay attention to all that stuff," Raley-Ross scoffed. "We just play basketball."



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