COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - In five weeks, 68 men’s college basketball teams will enter March Madness with a ticket to the Big Dance.
As of Monday, South Carolina projects out of the NCAA Tournament by ESPN bracketology guru, Joe Lunardi.
"Who cares?" said Gamecocks head men's basketball coach Frank Martin. "Seriously, who cares in the first week of February whether you're in, out, bubble blew up, who cares?"
It's a fair point with eight regular-season games left. South Carolina sits 77th in the latest NET ranking with a 14-9 overall record. The Gamecocks’ overall record equals or is better than several Big Ten programs projected into the field of 68 by Lunardi. The three include Purdue (14-10), Michigan (14-9), and Wisconsin (14-10). All three sit in the Top 33 of the current NET ranking. Coach Martin understands how a pair of home losses to Stetson and Boston University have hurt his team's current tournament resume.
"If we had not lost three home games, our NET would be in the 30’s," said Martin. "And we'd be in the same conversation those teams are, but we did lose the games. That's part of who we are."
If the tournament started today, both ESPN's Lunardi and CBS Sports would have 11 teams from the Big Ten in the dance. Unlike Lunardi, CBS Sports has Minnesota (12-11) dancing, despite one true road win this season. The Golden Gophers' best non-conference win was at a neutral site against Oklahoma State (75 NET ranking).
The national college basketball pundits seem to be impressed with the Big Ten this season. Martin would like a similar portrayal of the SEC from those that cover the league outside of Columbia and the Palmetto State.
"What I don't like is when we win a game in February and the game tries to be diminished because it's against a team that's not very good," said Martin in regards to playing against SEC opponents. "That's not true."
The SEC currently projects six programs into the NCAA Tournament by Lunardi. Again, Minnesota, unlike South Carolina, sits on the tournament bubble, which is an interesting projection even though the Gamecocks are 5-3 in true road games, including at Arkansas (38 NET ranking) and Virginia (51 NET ranking). The Gamecocks are 6-2 in their last eight games, with a win at home over Kentucky (22 NET ranking).
Does any of this matter right now? For Martin, the answer is no. However, the Gamecocks embrace the opportunities left to play their way into the NCAA Tournament.
“There’s a day in March where the teams that belong will get in,” added Martin. “Are we in a place we can get there? I think we are, but we got to win.”