No. 4 Gamecocks navigate No. 1 seed

dcloninger@thestate.comFebruary 17, 2014 

Players pass coach Dawn Staley's after-game shoes during the second half of action Thursday night at Colonial Life Arena. USC won, 99-70.

TRACY GLANTZ — Tracy Glantz

  • AP Women’s Top 25

    Rec. Pts.Pvs.
    1. UConn (36)26-09001
    2. Notre Dame24-08642
    3. Louisville25-28034
    4. South Carolina23-27645
    5. Stanford24-27616
    6. Baylor22-37337
    7. Duke22-36963
    8. Maryland20-46279
    9. Penn St.20-556311
    10. Tennessee20-55368
    11. North Carolina20-652417
    12. Oklahoma St.20-449512
    13. West Virginia22-348513
    14. N.C. State22-444810
    15. Kentucky19-642618
    16. Texas A&M20-641014
    17. Nebraska19-527721
    18. California18-723822
    19. LSU18-722219
    20. Arizona St.20-618715
    21. Purdue18-717223
    22. St. John’s19-513224
    23. Michigan St.17-811425
    24. Gonzaga23-48720
    25. Rutgers20-569

    Others: Middle Tennessee 53, Wichita St. 23, Vanderbilt 21, Iowa 19, DePaul 17, Chattanooga 9, Bowling Green 8, James Madison 8, Georgia Tech 5, BYU 2, Dayton 1, Florida 1.

The rest of the nation is waking up to the fact that the South Carolina women are a good team that could make a lot of noise come March.

ESPN women’s bracketologist Charlie Creme placed the Gamecocks as one of the NCAA tournament’s four No. 1 seeds in his latest update on Monday, joining Connecticut, Notre Dame and Stanford. The Gamecocks leaped Louisville in his projection after beating LSU, a reward for going on the road and beating a team ranked fifth in the country’s RPI.

“If we can be in the conversation of being a No. 1 seed, we’ve come a long way,” coach Dawn Staley said. “It means our program has grown, it means that the nation’s taking notice of what we’re doing.”

Being a top seed should mean an easier road through the NCAA tournament. The Gamecocks would open against one of the last four seeded teams in the tournament (Creme’s projection has Cal State Northridge) and play a second-round game against a team seeded no better than eighth. Creme’s projection has No. 8 Dayton and No. 9 Oklahoma rounding out the four-team pod.

The problem is the location. USC, because of South Carolina state legislation that keeps the Confederate battle flag flying in front of the State House, is prohibited from hosting NCAA tournament games. UConn will host its first two games. Stanford and Notre Dame will not, but they will host their third and fourth games, should they advance.

The Gamecocks are doubtful to fall far in the national eye with four regular-season games and the SEC tournament to go, so they can’t hope to be a lower seed in a closer regional. USC is either a top seed in a far-flung regional (Creme’s projection has them in Seattle) or playing as a lower seed against better-seeded competition closer to home.

“At this point, we knew that going into the NCAA tournament, we would probably be playing away from here and probably far away from here, as we have in previous years,” Staley said. “We’re not going to worry about the NCAA tournament until Selection Monday. To win the national championship, at some point, you’re going to have to win on someone else’s floor.”

The rules change next year. SEC official Tammy Wilson confirmed on Monday that the NCAA will switch to merit-based pods for the top 16 seeds in the tournament next year, meaning that if USC earns one of those top 16 seeds, it can host the first and second rounds. The third and fourth rounds are moving to neutral sites, in response to this year’s third and fourth rounds being played at campus sites.

It’s the same system as the NCAA baseball tournament, where South Carolina, Clemson and Coastal Carolina have each earned the right to host regionals despite the flag controversy.

Because there are limited spots for the Gamecocks to go to be a top seed, they’ll have to settle for where the selection committee sends them. Only three host sites – Los Angeles, Seattle and Toledo, Ohio – are unlikely to have their host teams (UCLA, Washington, Toledo) in them, but Creme has projected Stanford to stay close to home in L.A., and Notre Dame to stay close to home in Toledo. That leaves the Gamecocks as going to Seattle.

“With Notre Dame getting first draw at Toledo, that leaves only the two West Coast cities for the Gamecocks to open tournament play,” Creme wrote in an online commentary on Monday. “A No. 1 seed would be a good thing for South Carolina. It just won’t be the perfect thing for South Carolina.”

It changes next year, and the hope is that USC will be able to overcome the road this year so it can enjoy next year. The Gamecocks lose one senior and have a star-studded recruiting class on the way.

“If your body of work says that you get to host the first and second round, I think that’s deserving,” Staley said. “We would love to be in that number to play in Colonial Life Arena, because if you go by our fan support, if we host the NCAA games, I think Gamecock nation will come out and support us in large numbers. Kudos to the change of the legislation to allow that to happen.”

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