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 womens bracketologist Charlie Creme placed the Gamecocks as one of the NCAA tournaments 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 countrys RPI.
If we can be in the conversation of being a No. 1 seed, weve come a long way, coach Dawn Staley said. It means our program has grown, it means that the nations taking notice of what were 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 (Cremes projection has Cal State Northridge) and play a second-round game against a team seeded no better than eighth. Cremes 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 cant hope to be a lower seed in a closer regional. USC is either a top seed in a far-flung regional (Cremes 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. Were not going to worry about the NCAA tournament until Selection Monday. To win the national championship, at some point, youre going to have to win on someone elses 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 years third and fourth rounds being played at campus sites.
Its 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, theyll 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 wont 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 thats 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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