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May 1, 2013

USC fighting for top-eight seed

Chad Holbrook swore that he was only thinking about the next game. Even after seeing his South Carolina squad knock off then-No. 2 LSU for a series win on the Tigers' home field, he said that he wasn't paying any attention to projections, or seeds, or potentials. All he knew was that the Gamecocks were 33-12 (13-8 SEC) and playing well, and he didn't want to jinx anything by talking about what could be.

No one could blame him. The season has been such a rollercoaster with injuries and inconsistency that many never knew which USC would show up night to night. Case in point, the LSU series: Somehow, a Gamecock team that gift-wrapped a win for Gardner-Webb four days earlier beat the Tigers on Saturday and Sunday, when LSU hadn't lost back-to-back games all year and had won 20 straight at home beforehand.

The projections are beginning to come more frequently, though, with just three weeks left in the regular season. The talk is abundant of who's done enough for one of the precious top-eight national seeds, who's done enough to host one of the 16 NCAA Regionals and who may be on the outside looking in without a strong finish.

Holbrook won't discuss it, but he knows just as well as any major coach knows that playing at home is favorable, often vital, toward a team's postseason success. The saying goes, and the facts support, that if a team can just play at home for those first two weeks of the NCAA tournament, that team is very likely to advance to the College World Series.

Looking at three major projections - SEBaseball.com, Baseball America and PerfectGameUSA.org - USC is where it's played itself into being. All three list the Gamecocks as one of the 16 host teams, but also not one of the top-eight national seeds that would ensure home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

All seem to agree that the LSU series tremendously helped USC's cause to eventually climb into the national-seed picture and a series win against No. 2 Vanderbilt this weekend would help even more. Baseball America says that USC would definitely be a national seed with a series win over the Commodores, at the expense of a third ACC team or a second Pac-12 team.

What's hurting USC right now? Two series sweeps, one at home, and a 7-5 record against the RPI Top 50. What's helping USC? Its record, standing in the toughest league in the country (fourth), a recent huge series win and what always helps - the fact that a sold-out Carolina Stadium looks really good on TV and can offer the NCAA a lot of money.

All three projections agree that the eight teams that look to have the strongest cases for a national seed are North Carolina, LSU, Virginia, Vanderbilt, Cal State Fullerton, Oregon State, NC State and Oregon. SEBaseball.com and PerfectGameUSA.org, which each project the entire bracket, have the winner of the USC regional advancing to meet the winner of the NC State regional.

All USC can control is its own destiny, Holbrook even saying that one of the main reasons he doesn't look at such things is because outside of his own team, too many others have to win or lose. It can take hours of perusing potential situations, all which can be rendered worthless by one fact - if your team doesn't win, none of the other stuff will matter.

The Gamecocks win seven more in the regular season and get to that nice round 40-win total, that looks very nice to the selection committee. They beat Vanderbilt in a series, then go on the road and take another series from Mississippi State, that looks very nice to the selection committee. If they win a game or two at the SEC tournament, a notorious loss waiting to happen since 2007 (the last time the Gamecocks broke even at the event), that looks very nice to the selection committee.

A lot of games to mix and match, but if USC wins the great majority of them, it can forget about packing for the postseason. Nothing better than playing an NCAA tournament game and getting to sleep in your own bed the same night.

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