Well, here we are.
If the South Carolina Gamecocks are able to defeat the Baylor Bears on Friday night at Madison Square Garden, they’ll advance to the Elite Eight, where their potential opponent could be - and these guys will be a little familiar - the Florida Gators. Think about it: when the bracket came out, we’d have figured that the Gators would be headed to the Sweet 16 in New York City. But South Carolina? No way, right?
In any event, the Gators punched their ticket to the regional semifinal with wins over ETSU (80-65) and Virginia (hoo boy - more like a win and a half. Seriously, 39 points allowed?). Their opponent on Friday night will be Wisconsin, who disposed of Virginia Tech and #1 overall seed (and defending national champion) Villanova on their way to the Big Apple.
Now I’m writing this and trying not to count our chickens before they hatch. But if the Gamecocks beat the Bears on Friday, the preferred Elite Eight matchup will be the Gators, right? Out of the 64* teams in the NCAA Tournament field, only one has played against the Gamecocks twice in the regular season: the Gators. With the Badgers, Frank Martin will have to draft up a game plan based on a team that he hasn’t seen before (Wisconsin hasn’t even faced South Carolina in basketball since the 1966-67 season). Provided that they beat the Bears (which will be no cakewalk), some reporter is going to ask at the postgame whether they prefer Florida or Wisconsin, and Martin, or Sindarius Thornwell, or whoever is up at the podium is going to say “It doesn’t matter as long as we take care of business” or something derivative. Memo: they want another shot at Florida.
Also, quite simply, they’ve beat them already. While the Gators came away with a 88-66 win on February 21 in Gainesville, that was against a Gamecocks team that was pressing and having the prospect of seeing another sure NCAA bid drift away. The 57-53 South Carolina win at CLA on January 18 was the team we’d had grown used to seeing in the regular season: a grind-it-out defense that forced turnovers (16) and gave up nothing beyond the arc (Florida was 0-17 from three in that one). Granted, the Gators aren’t going to go 0-17 from deep again for a while against any team, but if they do end up beating the Badgers and it does turn out to be South Carolina in the Elite Eight, this will be a completely different Gamecocks squad that the one they faced in February.
Finally, it’s Florida, and we’re supposed to beat them in everything, and Will Muschamp used to coach their football team and Steve Spurrier won a national championship there, etc.
Again, this doesn’t happen unless the Gamecocks beat the Bears on Friday night. But let’s be honest: in an odd way, a potential Final Four bid looks a lot more achievable with a win over the Gators than it does over a unfamiliar (yet lower-seeded) Wisconsin team, doesn’t it?
...Sorry for the speculative post. Let’s just focus on Baylor first. And by the way, you should order this cool “Welcome To Sin City” t-shirt to commemorate the Gamecocks’ trip to the Sweet 16.
—*if you lose a First Four game, were you really in the tournament in the first place? It’s 64 for the purpose of this exercise.