Seems like years ago now, but there was a time this basketball season when Frank Martin didn’t care about wins and losses.
“We’re gonna get our team right,” said South Carolina’s coach following an 80-78 win over Coastal Carolina on Dec. 9. “If we lose, we lose. If we’re tired, we’re tired. We’re gonna learn to listen, we’re going to learn to be disciplined and we’re gonna learn to care. And that’s our focus right now.”
Martin’s words came when the Gamecocks were on a three-game winning streak. But he knew the results were masking a substandard level of play. The goal, he said, was to get things right by March.
On Jan. 24 at Florida, USC knocked off a ranked opponent for the second time in three games. South Carolina (13-7, 4-4 SEC) is trending in the right direction as it approaches the most important portion of the calendar.
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So here’s a look at, yes, Carolina’s NCAA Tournament résumé and what the Gamecocks need to do to get back in the Big Dance:
▪ Last year’s Gamecocks team was a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament with an RPI of 43. They went 22-10 against a strength of schedule ranked No. 47
▪ The 2015-16 USC team that was left out of the tournament had a 57 RPI and 159 SOS.
▪ The lowest RPI team to land an at-large bid in the 2016-17 tournament was Kansas State (56). The Wildcats were boosted by six wins against the RPI top 50.
▪ Carolina’s win over Florida was its second against the RPI top 50 this season. The Gamecocks also own a win over an RPI top 25 team (Kentucky).
▪ The 2017-18 Gamecocks are 2-5 against the RPI top 50. Last year’s team went 3-5 against the RPI top 50. USC would have already matched that total had Georgia’s RPI not made a recent drop to 54.
▪ Carolina’s win in Athens on Jan. 13 could be crucial should the Bulldogs get back on track. UGA has lost two straight with a trip to Kansas State (15-5) and a home game against the Gators (14-6) looming.
▪ South Carolina wins against top 100 RPI teams: Kentucky (14), Florida (38), Georgia (54) and Wyoming (59).
▪ South Carolina losses against top 100 RPI teams: Temple (45), Clemson (6), Missouri (43), Alabama (32) and Tennessee (12).
▪ By RPI standards, Carolina’s worst loss is to No. 110 Illinois State.
▪ Perhaps more so than previous seasons, South Carolina will get a boost just by being in the SEC.
▪ Six of USC’s final 10 league games are with teams ranked in the RPI top 50. This includes a home-and-home with Auburn (RPI 7) and a road game at Tennessee. South Carolina likely can’t afford being swept by Mississippi State (74) or dropping a home game to LSU (84).
▪ The Big 12/SEC Challenge on Saturday brings Texas Tech (20) to Colonial Life Arena.
▪ ESPN’s Joe Lunardi updated his bracket projection Thursday morning. The Gamecocks are not among the eight SEC teams in the field. Georgia is among Lunardi’s eight teams just outside the field. The others are Boise State (RPI 40), Maryland (52), Washington (49), Western Kentucky (47), Virginia Tech (75), Baylor (87) and St. Bonaventure (48).
▪ Jerry Palm of CBS, updated Jan. 22, put South Carolina among his last eight out of the field.