The distance between the University of South Carolina and the Bankers' Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana is 605 miles. From the university to the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center in Sioux Falls? 1,357 miles.
Needless to say, the Gamecocks could be racking up plenty of frequent flyer miles over the next couple of weeks. Check out this itinerary: a starting point of Columbia, and if things turn out the way they hope, a trip to Sioux Falls, back to Columbia, back on the road to Indianapolis, and finally back to Columbia, hopefully with a championship trophy in belt.
But first things first: the Jacksonville Dolphins, Friday night at 7:30 at Colonial Life Arena. Let's break down the bracket and see how that road to the Women's Final Four in Indianapolis might project for the Gamecocks.
First two rounds: Smooth sailing at home
In the history of the NCAA men's and women's tournament, only one #16 seed has beaten a #1 seed: the Harvard Crimson women, who stopped #1 seed Stanford in the 1998 first round. Now, this is no disrespect to Jacksonville, but their eyes will be wide and they'll likely be pinching themselves once they step into the Colonial Life Arena, 16 times larger than Switzer Gymnasium, the Dolphins' home court. However, conventional wisdom says that this should be a laugher, and it will be - the Dolphins will be leaving town with memories of their first NCAA tournament appearance and having been on the receiving end of a complete beatdown.
The next opponent, either George Washington (from the Atlantic 10) or Kansas State (from the Big 12) might be a slightly bigger challenge for the Gamecocks compared to Jacksonville. But GW was dropped by Stanford, a four seed, by 21 earlier in the season. K-State took on UConn on November 23 in Hartford and got clobbered, 97-57; they fell to Baylor by 35 on February 3.
Regionals: Sioux Falls is how far from Columbia, again?
"It’s not what we wanted but I know if we take care of business, I’m sure the people of South Dakota will take care of us." - Dawn Staley— TheBigSpur.com (@TheBigSpur247) March 14, 2016
For all the Gamecocks fans that were upset about the team being placed in the Sioux Falls regional (and props to Dawn Staley for being political about it, even though I doubt she's very happy about the draw), there's always someone that has it worse off from a logistical standpoint. Be happy that you aren't Florida, who, if they make it out of the Syracuse region, go home and then have to hop on a flight all the way up there. But it's less about the fact that the Gamecocks could be headed to Sioux Falls and more about that fact that a top seeded Gamecocks team, with UConn and Baylor virtually hosting regionals, third-seeded Kentucky potentially getting up to four games on its own court, and top-seed Notre Dame playing relatively close to home, is being forced to head so far away if they make it out of their subregion.
Either way, one thing that the Gamecocks can take comfort in is that four teams they've played and beaten during the regular season - (2) Arizona State, (3) Ohio State, (5) Florida, and (7) Tennessee - are in their quadrant. But it's important to note that the Sun Devils gave them a battle before falling by two and the season opener against the Buckeyes was only an eight-point victory. Could we be in for a South Carolina/Arizona State or Ohio State rematch with a trip to the Women's Final Four on the line? And could a (4) Syracuse or a dark horse like a (6) West Virginia or a Tennessee get their shot at Carolina along the way?
Women's Final Four: Potential rematch with Notre Dame?
Naturally, if things play out the way that they should, the only team that would stand in the way of the Gamecocks reaching their first national championship game is the Fighting Irish. Even though Dawn Staley will have the team's focus on one game at a time, you have to know that when they saw that bracket, they had April 3 mentally circled in their minds as the day of a potential rematch against a team that knocked them out of the tournament in last year's semifinal. And it's that possibility, along with the chance of getting another crack at UConn, that should drive them as they eye the ultimate goal: a national championship.