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March 9, 2009

In or Out: USC figuring out NCAA picture

Mike Holmes and Dominique Archie concurred -- they don't have any votes on the NCAA selection committee, so trying to figure out if South Carolina has done enough to be in the NCAA tournament at this point is fruitless.

But Holmes, while Archie said he wasn't paying attention to it, said he thought the Gamecocks were in.

"I think so," he assented after USC's regular season-ending win over Georgia.

That thought needs some others like it.

Several brackets updated themselves after the Gamecocks beat Georgia, but USC is still missing or on "The Last Four" lists in some of them. As Holmes and Archie pointed out, they can't control anything about those, but it obviously would be a bit more comforting if every online scribe was saying sure, no problem, USC's in.

USC has 21 wins, 10 in the SEC. That's a big plus -- no 10-win SEC team, save for probation-saddled Georgia a few years ago, has missed the NCAAs since the league went to 12 teams.

The Gamecocks aren't winning any favors from their strength of schedule (getting too close to 100, although still above it at this point). Their RPI remains in the Top 50, and thanks to Florida beating Kentucky, USC's other glaring lack was solved.

Before the Gators won, the Gamecocks had not beaten any team in the RPI's Top 50 while a lot of other bubble teams had. Florida won and crept back in the Top 50, so USC's record improved to 1-5 against the group.

Not great, but much more impressive than that 0-4 USC had.

It seems a win in the SEC tournament -- the Gamecocks' first opponent will be either Georgia, who they've beaten twice, or Mississippi State, who they lost to once -- would push USC over the top. Thanks to the Georgia win, the Gamecocks cannot hit 10 losses during the SEC tournament, which looks very pleasant.

What USC has to be concerned with is a non-expectant teams making a deep run through the tournament. Tennessee, Florida, Auburn and the Gamecocks are all hoping that doesn't happen while LSU isn't too worried -- the Tigers are in.

A bubble team -- like Vanderbilt or Mississippi State -- winning a game or two might not be that bad, but it jumbles the resumes of the other tournament hopefuls. A team like Arkansas or Georgia running the table and taking the automatic bid means one of those hopefuls is going to get left home.

Each scenario will doubtless be played and re-played until the SEC tournament begins. Holmes, Archie and the Gamecocks can't do anything about it until Friday, when they can play again.

"They always talk about it on ESPN," forward Evka Baniulis said. "The winner goes there regardless, so that's our goal."



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