By Rixon Lane
South Carolina will learn which its opponent for the Sweet Sixteen tonight.
Fourth-seeded North Carolina and fifth-seeded Ohio State tip off tonight at 6:30 in Chapel Hill.
The winner advances to Greensboro to face the Gamecocks, so let's take a look at the pros and cons of a matchup with either squad for South Carolina.
No. 4 North Carolina Tar Heels (25-8 overall, beat Liberty 71-65)
South Carolina has faced the Tar Heels five times over the last six seasons. The two schools have gone after the same players in recruiting battles. Other than Clemson, which has not posed much of a threat to the Gamecocks in recent seasons, there may not be another non-conference team that South Carolina knows better than North Carolina.
2. Revenge Factor
UNC ended South Carolina's season last year with a 65-58 win in the Sweet Sixteen. The Gamecocks allowed the Tar Heels to shoot over 40% from the floor in the first half and North Carolina held on to knock off the No. 1 seed in Stanford, CA. Deep down, you know the Gamecocks would love another shot at the Tar Heels.
North Carolina has had to play without one of its top performers since late December. Columbia native Xylina McDaniel injured her leg against Elon, sidelining her for the remainder of the season. Despite only playing 12 games all year, McDaniel is still UNC's third-leading scorer with 11.3 points per game.
1. No Intimidation
The Tar Heels haven't lost to South Carolina since 2011. UNC knocked off the Gamecocks twice last year, including the win in the Sweet Sixteen. South Carolina has played plenty of games this season where the opponent has been beaten before tip-off, but UNC won't back down from the top-seeded Gamecocks.
South Carolina is going to have plenty of fans in Greensboro, but the Tar Heels will bring a strong contingent as well. With the game being played in North Carolina, the best South Carolina can hope for is probably a 50-50 split in attendance. After getting a pair of home games to begin the tournament, how will the Gamecocks handled some hostility in the arena?
Sometimes, in rematches, the team looking for payback can let their emotions get the better of them. South Carolina will be incredibly fired up for another chance at the Tar Heels, but that angle could wind up hurting the Gamecocks early on. If North Carolina takes advantage of early mistakes, the Gamecocks might be in trouble.
No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes (24-10 overall, beat James Madison 90-80)
No one on Ohio State's roster was on the team when the Buckeyes made their last trip to the Sweet Sixteen in 2011. The Gamecocks have 10 players who were there for last year's loss in Stanford. South Carolina won't blink at being back in the Sweet Sixteen, while some of the Buckeyes might be a little overwhelmed at tip-off.
South Carolina doesn't have a single player averaging over 30 minutes per game this season, while Ohio State has three. No team in America can bring what South Carolina brings off the bench, while the Buckeyes rely heavily on their starting five. Wave after wave of quality subs for the Gamecocks might wear down Ohio State over time.
The Buckeyes may travel well, but Greensboro will be pro-Gamecock for this matchup. South Carolina can easily bring more fans to the arena than Ohio State, which would allow the Gamecocks to have another game with a "home" feel in the tournament. For a team that plays off the crowd, this could be a huge advantage.
The Gamecocks can run well, but few teams in the country have a more high-powered offense than Ohio State. The Buckeyes are one of just seven teams in Division I who average over 80 points per game. If the Gamecocks allow Ohio State to dictate the tempo early on, South Carolina could be in for a long night.
South Carolina won't tower over the Buckeyes the same way they have most teams this season. Ohio State has four players who stand 6'2" or taller, including 6'6" center Lisa Blair. Believe it or not, Ohio State has actually blocked more shots this season (217) than the Gamecocks have (216), which isn't something South Carolina will be used to.
3. Kelsey Mitchell
The most prolific scorer in women's basketball this season, Mitchell is averaging 24.9 points per game. The true freshman from Cincinnati has topped 30 points seven different times this season, including a 31-point performance against another No. 1 seed, Maryland. If Mitchell gets hot, she can end South Carolina's season.