The Path to an NCAA Tournament Bid

By Rixon Lane

After picking up its first SEC win of the season, South Carolina sits at 10-5 halfway through the regular season slate.

A 9-3 start in non-conference play, which included an upset of 9th-ranked Iowa State, had fans talking about a possible berth in the NCAA Tournament. 

While that talk has died down slightly, the Gamecocks could still find a way to dance this March. 

Staff Photo by Chris Gillespie: A win over Alabama helped South Carolina avoid an 0-3 SEC start

Staff Photo by Chris Gillespie: A win over Alabama helped South Carolina avoid an 0-3 SEC start

To determine what South Carolina will need to do in order to earn a bid, let's look at the last time the Gamecocks punched their ticket to March Madness. In the 2003-04 season, South Carolina wrapped up the regular season with a 21-9 overall record and an 8-8 mark in conference play. In order to get to 21-9 by the end of this season, the Gamecocks would have to win 11 of their final 15 games. 

Dropping just four more conference games is no small task, but it's not impossible. Let's begin with where the losses would likely come. 

The Gamecocks have to play top-ranked Kentucky twice and it's hard to imagine that South Carolina can split the series with the Wildcats. An unbeaten Kentucky team has been upset by South Carolina before, but we'll assume the Wildcats take both contests. 

19th-ranked Arkansas is also on the schedule twice. The Gamecocks host the Razorbacks on Senior Day in Columbia, which might help their chances to pull an upset. Getting one game against the Hogs would be huge for South Carolina and its best chance will be at home. 

When you take those four games off the schedule, South Carolina has 11 conference games remaining against Auburn, Tennessee, LSU, Georgia, Vanderbilt, Missouri, Texas A&M, Alabama, and Mississippi State. Those nine teams currently have a combined record of 87-50, which averages out to roughly a 10-6 record per team. The Gamecocks are currently 10-5, meaning there is no reason South Carolina shouldn't expect to win each of those 11 games. Of course, winning consistently in the SEC isn't easy, but the Gamecocks should have higher expectations than just being competitive in conference games. 

Enter the SEC Tournament with a 21-9 overall record and a 12-6 mark in the SEC and it would be hard to envision this team not earning an NCAA Tournament bid. 

Yes, it's improbable. 

But not impossible.