After capping off a disappointing regular season with a series loss to LSU, South Carolina will face Missouri in the first round of the SEC Tournament. Barring something completely unexpected, the Gamecocks will not make the NCAA Tournament unless they make a run in Hoover this week.
As most Carolina fans know, the SEC Tournament has not been kind to the Gamecocks over the years. Even some of the best teams to ever take the field for South Carolina have not had much success in the SEC Tournament. Carolina's all-time record in the SEC Tournament is 25-41 (.379). The Gamecocks have gone winless in 9 of their 22 appearances in the tournament and only have a record of .500 or better 6 times. South Carolina has won the whole thing only once, in 2004, and is 8-20 in the tournament since then. In the last five seasons the Gamecocks are 2-10 in Hoover, meaning they've won as many SEC Tournament games as national titles in that stretch. (Yes, that was in last year's SEC tourney preview too. It's a shame, on multiple levels, that it's still true.)
Last year's performance in Hoover was one of the worst the Gamecocks have ever had. The Gamecocks lost their two games by a combined margin of 19-2 and one of those games was shortened due to the mercy rule. On the bright side, it's basically impossible for this year's performance to be worse than last year's. The first round of the tournament, in which everyone but the top four seeds participates, is single elimination. That means that if the Gamecocks lose, they'll have only lost one game. If the Gamecocks win, they'll have won a game in Hoover for the first time since 2012.
South Carolina's opponent in the opening round of the tournament is Missouri. This will be the first ever meeting between the teams in the SEC Tournament. Earlier this season the Tigers took two out of three from the Gamecocks in Missouri. The Tigers won 3-2 and 4-3 (10 innings) before the Gamecocks avoided the sweep with a 7-5 victory. The winner of today's game will go on to face Vanderbilt on Wednesday in the double elimination portion of the bracket.
The Gamecocks enter the game 32-24 (13-17), while Missouri is 29-26 (15-15) on the season. Though they only won two more conference games than South Carolina, Missouri won six of their ten SEC series. Their only SEC series losses were to Texas A&M, Vandy, LSU and Kentucky.
The Gamecocks face a challenge in defeating Missouri to advance and extend their postseason. Though they played the Tigers close earlier in the season, the Gamecocks may be without two of their three best hitters in this game. Max Schrock and Elliott Caldwell are both injured, and though they traveled to Hoover, their status is uncertain. That leaves the Gamecocks potentially starting a lineup that consists of Kyle Martin and eight guys hitting under .260. Even if Schrock and/or Caldwell are able to play, neither of them will be at full strength. The Gamecocks will need other players in the lineup to step up and provide the offensive power to get past the Tigers. Carolina had several players do just that a couple of weeks ago against Texas A&M and will need some of those same guys (Mooney, Scolamiero) to contribute in a big way again.
One of the biggest problems facing the Gamecocks as they seek to make a run in Hoover and earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament is that this team is simply not built to pull something like that off. This was discussed in our review of the LSU series, but it's worth mentioning again. The Gamecocks have one starting pitcher. The rest of the staff either starts and lasts a few innings or comes out of the bullpen as the situation demands, but nobody other than Wynkoop has been expected or trusted to start on a weekly basis for the majority of the season. It will be very difficult, though not impossible, for the Gamecocks to make an extended run through the SEC Tournament under those circumstances.
Holbrook said on Monday that Jack Wynkoop will be the starting pitcher for the Gamecocks today. The junior lefty will be on short rest, as he just pitched against LSU on Thursday. His season ERA is 3.13 and he has 82 strikeouts and 13 walks.
Missouri will send junior RHP Reggie McClain to the mound for today's game. He has a 3.83 ERA with 76 strikeouts and 17 walks this year. McClain is also on short rest after pitching Thursday against Kentucky. A great start from McClain helped lead the Tigers to their victory over the Gamecocks in the first game of the regular season series.
Start Time: Approximately 2 pm (Game scheduled to begin about 30 minutes after the conclusion of Game 1)
Location: Hoover, Alabama
How to Watch: SEC Network
How to Listen: 107.5 The Game and Gamecock Radio Network affiliates