For the fourth straight year, and fresh off an SEC regular season and tournament championship, the South Carolina women’s basketball team enters the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament as one of the field’s top four teams. And yet again, the NCAA selection committee is sending the squad out west should they advance past the first weekend.
South Carolina kicks off their tournament action in the friendly confines of Colonial Life Arena Friday at 5:00 p.m. against UNC Asheville in front of what should be a hyped Gamecock-centric crowd.
#16 seed UNC Asheville enters the tournament representing the Big South Conference after taking down top seeded Radford 49-48 in the Big South Tournament finals. The Bulldogs come in hot, riding a six game winning streak, entering the postseason 19-14 overall. Barring an unforeseen and historic upset, the Gamecocks will take on the winner of Michigan State - Arizona State in the regions’ 8-9 matchup in Columbia.
The Spartans and Sun Devils both come into the 2017 affair as at-large bids from Power Five conferences. Competing in arguably the second toughest and deepest conference in the women’s game this year, Arizona State enjoyed a fifth place finish in the Pac 12, but struggled against the conference’s best. As for the Spartans, the enter the tournament winners of six of their past eight, but just gave up 100 to Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals.
Should South Carolina make it out the first weekend at home, they’ll most likely take on either #5 seed Marquette or #4 seed Miami out in Stockton, California.
Florida State and Oregon State round out the region’s top five seeds, and both get enjoy a weekend at home to kick off the festivities. The Seminoles finished the regular season ranked 10th in the nation, 25-6 overall and tied with Duke for second in the ACC behind Notre Dame. The ‘Noles got the season started on a blistering pace as winners of 23 of their first 25, but have dropped four out of the final six.
Oregon State enters this year’s field as Pac-12 regular season champion, outlasting UCLA, Washington and Stanford for the crown. They suffered a disappointing 48-43 loss to the Cardinal in the Pac-12 championship game.
Despite the fact South Carolina is asked to head to the West Coast should they remain alive after the first weekend of play, their region is favorable for a trip to the Final Four in Dallas as they aim to bounce back from their disappointing stumble to Syracuse in last year’s tournament. The nation’s second ranked team, Notre Dame, looms in the horizon as a potential national semifinal, and a rematch with heavy favorite UConn wouldn’t come until the National Championship game.
For a team that was asked to replace senior guards (and program cornerstones) Tiffany Mitchell and Khadijah Sessions, the fact that the Gamecocks find themselves as a one seed yet again speaks volumes for what Dawn Staley has built in this program. With A’ja Wilson and Alaina Coates now in possession of keys to the car, I would expect an extremely focused squad to come out in this tournament aiming to prove last year’s Sweet 16 exit was a fluke and that this program is one of the modern powerhouses in their game.