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May 27, 2014

Analysis: USC's path to Omaha ideal

Sometimes, the greatest blessings come from the prayers that go unanswered.

Coming off its repulsive play in Hoover, No. 18 South Carolina was denied a national seed, demoted in the national polls and forced to let the NCAA Tournament committee decide its fate.

Thank goodness for that.

Given how many of the national seeds were treated with their Super Regional pairings - Oregon State with LSU, Florida with Miami, Louisiana-Lafayette with red-hot Mississippi State in its own regional before potentially facing an angry Ole Miss team - a strong case can be made that the Gamecocks' punishment for their play in the SEC Tournament was being awarded the easiest bracket of the entire NCAA tournament.

Think, if South Carolina could pick which team it wanted to play from the national seeds, there's no question it'd be the Cavaliers, and not only because Virginia lost four of its final six games, including a road series at Wake Forest and a 1-2 record at the ACC Tournament. It'd be because the Gamecocks have Virginia's number in postseason play.

Back in 2006, South Carolina defeated Virginia and won the Charlottesville Regional before losing in the Super Regionals to Georgia in Athens. In 2012, the Gamecocks were matched up with the Cavaliers just like this year and would have faced UVA in the Super Regional until Oklahoma won it as a No. 2 seed and came to Columbia instead where the Sooners became victims of USC's record-setting NCAA winning streak.

And of course, no Gamecock fan alive can or will ever forget South Carolina's two thrilling wins over Virginia in Omaha en route to the 2011 title, the second a 13-inning affair that still defies description.

There's also no guarantee the Cavaliers will escape their own regional, what with in-state rival and South Carolina official partner Liberty in the field (should Liberty somehow win that regional, Jim Toman should be given a parade down Main Street for what he'd have done in consecutive years to help the Gamecocks advance, whipping Clemson in Columbia a year ago) and an Arkansas team that can match anyone arm for arm.

But what about the Columbia regional?

Cake, meet walk.

The combined number of NCAA Tournament appearances between first-round foe Campbell and No. 2 seed Maryland is six. USC has been 30 times. The third team, Old Dominion, hasn't made the NCAAs in nearly 15 years, and do you think USC pitching coach Jerry Meyers, who was head coach at ODU from 2005-2010, might not be a tad bit motivated to play his old school should they meet?

Maryland broke a school record for wins in a season this year - with 36. South Carolina has won 40 or more games for 15 consecutive seasons. The last time the Terps were in the NCAA Tournament, American troops were still in Vietnam (1971). Campbell hasn't been to the NCAAs in 23 years.

The combined number of years since the Gamecocks' Columbia Regional foes have been to the NCAAs? A stunning 78.

Of course, anything can happen in the NCAA Tournament, but I don't see a weaker bracket in the entire 64-team tournament than the Columbia regional.

For a team that looked as bad as a baseball team can in depressing losses to Mississippi State and Florida, the Gamecocks came home to an NCAA bracket that looks - on the surface, at least - like the easiest route to Omaha of any team in the nation.

Let the real tournament begin.

South Carolina NEWS


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