Wes Myers finished with 22 points, four assists and four steals and Chris Silva added 18 points and 12 boards as South Carolina knocked off No. 20 Florida in Gainesville, 77-72.
It’s the second time in eight days that Frank Martin’s Gamecocks have won a game that will be a Quadrant 1 win come Selection Sunday; last Tuesday, South Carolina erased a 14-point second half deficit in the final 10 minutes in a win over then-No. 18 Kentucky.
And suddenly, a South Carolina team that lost Sindarius Thornwell, P.J. Dozier, Duane Notice and Justin McKie from a Final Four team that entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 7 seed is firmly in the mix to make a return trip to the 2018 NCAA tournament.
That, frankly, is shocking.
The truth is that the teams currently on the bubble are all going to have fairly hideous résumés at this point in the year. We’re barely two-third of the way through the season and not even halfway through conference play. And with the majority of the major conferences playing unbalanced schedules, it’s not a surprise that some of those teams haven’t been able to stockpile quality wins yet.
It is also important to note here that the the relative weakness of some other leagues — with the Pac-12 and Big Ten looking like they’ll combine for seven bids, and the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West looking like they’ll struggle to avoid one-bid status — means that there are going to be spots available.
And the SEC looks like it will be the biggest beneficiary.
The conference is weird this year. I don’t know if there is a team in the league that I would feel comfortable betting on to get to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament, but thanks to South Carolina’s resurgence, there are now 11 members of that league that are in the mix for an NCAA tournament bid. Kentucky is nowhere near a lock to get to the NCAA tournament. Auburn looks like they’re going to win the league despite losing two of their three best players prior to the start of the season. Texas A&M, who still may be the team with the best chance of making a deep run in March, is quite literally tied for last place in the conference standings.
Which brings me back to South Carolina.
I think you can very easily make the argument that, should the Gamecocks continue on the path that they are currently on an earn a trip to the NCAA tournament, the job Frank Martin has done this season is more impressive than the job he did last season. And trust me, I’m not overlooking the fact that he took South Carolina — who had been to four NCAA tournaments since 1974 prior to last season — to the Final Four.
They were a No. 7 seed. That played what amounted to home games the first weekend. Then got the benefit of a bracket that opened up because Wisconsin upset No. 1 seed Villanova. You can only beat who is in front of you and yes, they took out No. 2 Duke and No. 3 Baylor, but getting to the Final Four with that kind of a draw and two NBA players on the roster is one thing.
Losing those two NBA players, losing two more seniors, losing a former top 100 prospect (Temarcus Blanton) to a career-ending injury and losing two more key rising sophomores (Rakym Felder, Sedee Keita) and still getting back to the NCAA tournament is another.
I always think that great coaching over the course of an entire season is more impressive than getting hot for a few weeks in March.
But here is the wildest part of the SEC to me. Knowing what we know about South Carolina and Frank Martin, I still don’t think that he would end up being in the top two for SEC Coach of the Year. I think Bruce Pearl is the runaway winner while Will Wade, who may get LSU into the NCAA tournament, is right there. Hell, if Cuonzo Martin can keep Missouri on the right side of the bubble after losing Michael Porter Jr., he may deserve a spot in the top three.
If you could have predicted that all of that was going to happen, you are Biff Tannen and please tell me who is going to win the Super Bowl.
I could use a nice little payday.