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How the Gamecock men can get in on March Madness

Hint: It starts by beating Arkansas.

Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a rollercoaster of a season so far for the South Carolina Gamecocks, who began the campaign with expectations of an NCAA Tournament berth; took multiple, inexplicably bad losses in out-of-conference play; then managed to recover when the SEC schedule started, rattling off some impressive victories and spending most of the regular season living on or slightly off the tournament’s bubble.

The Gamecocks’ resume, despite a couple flies in the ointment, strikes one as being at least somewhat NCAA-worthy if you squint. South Carolina (18-13, 10-8 SEC) is 74th in RPI, has a 66 NET rating, and is 66th in SOS. Sure, it’s middling, but nothing about that outright disqualifies the Gamecocks from bubble consideration — except, of course, the performance of other teams. And much like USC fans, the committee probably still isn’t over that loss to Stetson.

So what needs to happen for South Carolina’s NCAA dreams to come true? Well, the quick and not-so-easy answer is to simply win the SEC Tournament. The Gamecocks will begin their quest to do just that tonight, at 9:30 p.m. against Arkansas, a 20-win team nursing some NCAA Tournament hopes of its own — and a team that USC beat earlier this season on the road in a 79-77 thriller. Unfortunately, there’s just one tiny detail: Maik Kotsar is hurt.

This sucks for a whole lot of reasons: Kotsar is a senior; he’s been the Gamecocks’ most reliable and productive player this year; and the season is literally coming down to team’s performance in the SEC Tournament. The timing could not possibly be worse for all parties involved (well, except for Arkansas, I guess), but in spite of that, the Gamecocks are somehow just 1.5-point underdogs to the Hogs.

Maybe — just maybe — if the Gamecocks can make a deep run in the SEC Tournament and some other bubble (and fringe bubble) teams utterly collapse, they can find a way to squeak in. But in all likelihood, the NIT is in South Carolina’s future.

Of course, would there be a more Gamecockian turn of events if South Carolina won the SEC Tournament, only for the NCAAs to be canceled amid coronavirus fears? Time will tell.