The South Carolina Gamecocks learned their NCAA Tournament fate on Sunday night, earning the event’s No. 1 overall seed after a stellar 32-0 regular-season campaign that they capped with an SEC Tournament crown. Now, the reigning national champions will look to defend that title and become just the fourth team ever to go back-to-back when they tip off postseason play with a first-round bout against 16-seed Norfolk State.
The Spartans (26-6) won their first MEAC Tournament title after also wrapping up the league’s regular-season championship. Coach Larry Vickers was named the conference’s coach of the year, and forward Kierra Wheeler netted Most Outstanding Player honors after averaging 16.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. The Spartans also boast the MEAC’s Defensive Player of the Year in Camille Downs, who ranks fifth nationally in steals and steals per game, and is a two-time winner of the award.
By virtue of their top seed, the Gamecocks will host the first two rounds of action in Columbia before the event shifts to Greenville, S.C., with the Final Four being played in Dallas. Notable possible opponents in their region include 2-seed Maryland, third-seeded Notre Dame, and 4-seed UCLA.
South Carolina also has an encouraging bit of injury news: Point guard Kierra Fletcher, who turned an ankle in the SEC Tournament semifinals against Ole Miss and was last seen on the bench in a walking boot, could be available as early as Friday’s contest against Norfolk State. Should coach Dawn Staley elect to hold her back, freshman Raven Johnson — who has filled in admirably — would make her fourth career start in Fletcher’s place.
Tip off is 2 p.m. on ESPN.