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NCAA Women’s Tournament 2018: Previewing the Gamecocks’ region, schedule

OK, so we know there’s UConn, but who else?

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

With the men tipping off this afternoon, the start of the women’s NCAA Tournament is just a short day away, and the second-seeded South Carolina Gamecocks will begin their national title defense against 15-seed North Carolina A&T at 7:30 p.m. on Friday. As one of the top 16 teams in the field, South Carolina earned the right to host its first two games, but if the Gamecocks advance, it’ll be off to Albany, N.Y., for the Sweet 16 and beyond.

As we’re all well aware by now, No. 1 overall seed UConn presides over this side of the bracket. The undefeated Huskies need no introduction, and the Gamecocks could meet them for the second time this season with a berth to the Final Four on the line. But here’s a quick look at the other teams in the Albany Regional:

No. 3 Florida State

The Seminoles are making their 13th NCAA appearance in the past 14 seasons, courtesy of a strong ACC campaign that culminated in a third-place finish. They lost to Notre Dame in the conference tournament semifinals, but there’s no shame in falling to the No. 1-seeded Irish.

No. 4 Georgia

A familiar SEC foe for the Gamecocks, the Bulldogs are coming off their best regular season in more than a decade, with all six of their losses coming to Top 25 teams. South Carolina beat the Bulldogs twice this year, once in the regular season and then again in the SEC Tournament semifinals, but Georgia would have to get by UConn to set up a potential third battle.

No. 5 Duke

South Carolina has something of a rivalry going with the Blue Devils, with the two teams usually playing once a year and often producing memorable games. This time around, the Gamecocks overwhelmed Duke in a 20-point victory, but as a mainstay near the top of the ACC pecking order, the Blue Devils still put together a 22-8 season.

No. 6 South Florida

The Bulls faced off against UConn in the AAC Tournament final, meeting the same fate that most teams do in that matchup, though they fell by a respectable 70-54 margin. This is South Florida’s fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

No. 7 California

The Bears are in the Big Dance for the sixth time in seven years, heading to Columbia to take on Virginia in the opening round. Cal lost a close one to No. 10 UCLA in the Pac-12 quarterfinals, but nonetheless is one of six teams from the conference in the NCAA Tournament, the second consecutive year the Pac-12 has hit that mark.

No. 8 Miami

The Hurricanes made school history with their fourth straight NCAA bid, a feat unequaled by the men’s team. Unfortunately, their reward is a trip to Storrs, Conn.

No. 9 Quinnipiac

The Bobcats, based in Hamden, Conn., are coming off a perfect regular season and a conference tournament championship in the MAAC. Upset-minded Quinnipiac went on a run to the Sweet 16 last year, where its magic eventually ran out against the Gamecocks.

No. 10 Virginia

It’s not surprising Dawn Staley’s alma mater was sent to Columbia for the first couple rounds. Making their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2010, the Cavaliers finished sixth in the ACC, and played a challenging schedule that included Mississippi State as well as two conference games each against Notre Dame and Louisville. While they lost all of those matchups, the Hoos could nonetheless be considered a battle-tested team.

No. 11 Buffalo

The Bulls are in the tournament courtesy of their first-ever at-large bid after Central Michigan edged them 91-96 for the MAC Tournament championship. Buffalo’s 27-5 campaign is its most successful season in program history.

No. 12 Belmont

The Bruins earned their highest NCAA Tournament seed and third consecutive appearance after putting together their best campaign in program history en route to an OVC championship. They also own the fourth-longest active winning streak in the country (22).

No. 13 Mercer

The 30-2 Bears won their first SoCon title to also clinch their first trip to the NCAA Tournament. Riding a 27-game winning streak, they’ll face Georgia in a clash of Peach State schools.

No. 14 UA-Little Rock

The Trojans, who won the Sun Belt Tournament, are back in the Big Dance for the first time since 2015. That season, they upset sixth-seeded Texas A&M as an 11-seed before narrowly missing another upset against No. 3 Arizona State.

No. 15 North Carolina A&T

The MEAC regular-season champion Aggies also took their fourth MEAC Tournament title. They’ll take an 11-game winning streak into their matchup with the Gamecocks, and have won 19 of their past 20.

No. 16 St. Francis

The only time a 1 vs. 16 upset has happened in the NCAA Tournament was on the women’s side, when Harvard shocked Stanford in 1998. With apologies to the Red Flash, as long as UConn is around, the wait will just have to continue.

Friday’s Schedule

Columbia games in bold

  • No. 6 Oregon State vs. No. 11 Western Kentucky, noon (ESPN2)
  • No. 5 Maryland vs. No. 12 Princeton, noon (ESPN2)
  • No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 16 Boise State, noon (ESPN)
  • No. 5 DePaul vs. No. 12 Oklahoma, noon (ESPN2)
  • No. 3 Tennessee vs. No. 14 Liberty, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • No. 8 Marquette vs. No. 9 Dayton, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • No. 4 Texas A&M vs. No. 13 Drake, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • No. 4 N.C. State vs. No. 13 Elon, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 16 CS Northridge, 5 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • No. 7 Michigan vs. No. 10 Northern Colorado, 5 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • No. 7 California vs. No. 10 Virginia, 5 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • No. 7 Green Bay vs. No. 10 Minnesota, 5 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • No. 8 South Dakota State vs. No. 9 Villanova, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • No. 2 Baylor vs. No. 15 Grambling, 7:30 (ESPN2)
  • No. 2 South Carolina vs. No. 15 N.C. A&T, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 15 Seattle, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)