South Carolina basketball coach Lamont Paris has gotten his 2023-2024 Gamecocks to a higher win total this season than they had all of last year, and SEC hasn't even started. After beating Florida A&M in dominant fashion this weekend, USC is 12-1 and has a real chance at making a push for the NCAA Tournament in March.
In order to get back to the Big Dance for the first time since the 2016-2017 Final Four run, South Carolina basketball will have to keep up their winning ways through the conference slate, something that will be tough as 11 of the Southeastern Conference's 14 teams are realistic postseason contenders.
Updated on Tuesday morning, ESPN's Joe Lunardi released his latest Bracketology, and the Gamecocks are still in the field of 68 teams. Lunardi has Carolina as one of the final teams to make the Dance without having to play in a play-in game. USC is an 11-seed and the third-to-final "bye" team in Lunardi's projections.
Remaining on the South Carolina basketball schedule is Tennessee (2-seed), Kentucky (3-seed), Auburn (5-seed), Alabama (6-seed), Texas A&M (6-seed), Ole Miss (8-seed), Mississippi State (10-seed), and Florida (10-seed). The SEC has 9 teams in Lunardi's current projections which would be an SEC record.
Future SEC programs Texas (11-seed and participating in a play-in game) and Oklahoma (5-seed) are both in, according to Lunardi. Current SEC teams Arkansas and Missouri (especially Arkansas) are expected to play their way into the conversation, as well.
Carolina slotting in toward the bottom end of the at-large invitees to the NCAA Tournament is about right when one considers the rankings. USC sits at 45th in the NET rankings, and the Gamecocks are 22nd in the RPI, a rating system that inflates wins over process, whereas the NET more evenly combines wins, strength of schedule, and team efficiency.
South Carolina basketball will play again on January 6th against current Lunardi 10-seed Mississippi State at Colonial Life Arena. The game will go a long way in determining if the Gamecocks have what it takes to be a part of March Madness as Mississippi State is a fellow "bubble team" who is getting back their best player, forward Tolu Smith.