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May 23, 2014

USC awaits NCAA Tourney fate

South Carolina realized a good showing in the SEC Tournament was necessary in order to lock down a national seed in the NCAA Tournament, which gets underway a week from today.

However, back-to-back losses to Mississippi State and Florida within a span of 18 hours by the combined score of 19-2 have deflated those hopes. As a result, the Gamecocks will likely have to hit the road for the Super Regionals and beat a Top 10 team in its own ballpark - should they advance past the Regional round - in order to reach the College World Series in Omaha for the fourth time in five years.

USC began the week at No. 8 in the Official NCAA Baseball RPI after prevailing at Vanderbilt in the final regular season series, but fell to No. 13 in BoydsWorld.com, a closely watched daily RPI barometer after Thursday's elimination at the hands of the Gators.

At the moment, six of the eight national seeds appear filled - Florida, Florida State, Indiana, Louisiana-Lafayette, Oregon State and Virginia. That leaves a half dozen or more teams battling for the final two national seeds.

Perhaps USC's biggest obstacle to attaining a national seed is the Gamecocks are the fifth highest ranked SEC team in the Boyd's World ratings behind Florida (4), Vanderbilt (7), Ole Miss (10) and LSU (12).

The latter two teams are still alive in the SEC Tournament, so they'll have a chance to improve their stock. LSU trounced Vanderbilt (11-1) and Arkansas (7-2) in their first two games at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium - guaranteeing the Tigers a spot in the single elimination semifinals on Saturday - and look to be surging at exactly the right time.

Some national college baseball analysts such as Aaron Fitt of Baseball America replaced USC with Ole Miss in their national seed predictions following Thursday's games, noting the Rebels "performed better in Hoover than South Carolina, finished a game ahead of the Gamecocks in the SEC standings, have a stronger RPI (at least for now) and the same number of top 50 wins (15)."

Even if the Gamecocks aren't awarded one of the eight national seeds, they should still host a four-team Regional next weekend at Carolina Stadium. The 16 regional hosts will be announced Sunday at approximately 9 p.m. ET on the NCAA's website, the Bottom Line of the ESPN Networks, Twitter (@NCAACWS) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/NCAACWS).

The entire 64-team field, including the eight national seeds, will be revealed in a live, one-hour telecast on ESPNU at Noon ET on Monday.

In his 'Mini-Stock Report' published late Thursday, Fitt has five SEC schools hosting a regional - USC, Florida, LSU, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt.

Should USC fail to attain a coveted national seed, its Regional would be matched up with one hosted by one of the top eight teams. Historically, USC has been sent to an ACC school (at North Carolina in 2007 and 2013) or a fellow SEC school (at Georgia in 2006) for the Super Regionals, with the 2010 trip to Coastal Carolina being the lone exception in the last decade.

Even though USC has never prevailed in a Super Regional outside the borders of the Palmetto State, Holbrook points to recent evidence of his team's capabilities.

"If we can go to Vanderbilt and win a series, we can go on the road and win," Holbrook said. "The season isn't over if we're not a national seed. We weren't a national seed in 2010 and we won the national championship. So, that doesn't seal our fate if we're not (a national seed). When you play in this league, you're prepared to go on the road."

When the NCAA Tournament field is disclosed on Monday, expect USC's regional to be matched up with Florida State, Virginia or another SEC school.

"If we have to go on the road, we'll go on the road," Holbrook said. "I am comfortable with my team. I feel good we have 42 wins. We're 42-16. So, let's go back and get ready and get prepared. I'm going to practice their butts off. Maybe they'll get so mad at me over the next few days that they'll take it out on somebody else in a week or so."

Wherever USC is sent for the Super Regional, Holbrook is undeterred despite the poor showing by his club in Hoover. Getting healthy, of course, is vital with starters Max Schrock, Connor Bright and Elliott Caldwell battling injuries.

"I believe in my guys," Holbrook said. "We have seven or eight days to get healthy. We've lost two games here (in Hoover) and won the national championship. Our guys know that. What we work for and what we pride ourselves in here at South Carolina is in front of us. It's not behind us. We have some exciting times, exciting moments and some very important games in front of us."


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