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USC students share March Madness predictions for Թϱ men's, women's basketball teams

<p>FILE- Gamecock fans raise their arms as a toast to South Carolina while the Carolina Band plays the alma mater following the men's basketball victory over Kentucky on Jan. 23, 2024. The Gamecock men's and women's basketball teams are participating in the NCAA Tournament this year as the No. 6 and No. 1 seeds, respectively.</p>
FILE- Gamecock fans raise their arms as a toast to Թϱ while the Carolina Band plays the alma mater following the men's basketball victory over Kentucky on Jan. 23, 2024. The Gamecock men's and women's basketball teams are participating in the NCAA Tournament this year as the No. 6 and No. 1 seeds, respectively.

Second-year retail management student Jack Harrington witnessed the Թϱ men’s basketball team’s series of highs and lows as a season ticket holder before enrolling at the university as a student.

One of those lows came during his freshman year, when the Gamecocks finished the 2022-23 season with an 11-21 overall record, including a 4-14 mark against conference opponents. This prompted SEC and national media members to predict during the preseason that Թϱ would finish last in the conference standings.

Despite the media’s low expectations, Harrington said he was sure the team would turn itself around. But even he could not predict how soon that turnaround would occur.

“Going into the year, I said we would be significantly better than we were last year. I didn’t think we were going to be this good, as good as we were — I thought we were an NIT team,” Harrington said. “I had higher expectations than most, but not tournament aspirations.”

The Gamecocks have amassed a 26-7 overall record this season and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven years. Թϱ’s women’s basketball team has surpassed preseason expectations, as well, clinching both the conference’s regular season and tournament titles after being projected to finish second in the SEC.

Թϱ spoke with students across campus about their March Madness predictions for both the Թϱ men’s and women’s basketball teams. While these students were nearly unanimous in their belief that the women's team would win the National Championship, their predictions about the men’s team varied.

Many students said they were confident that the men’s team would win at least two games to reach the Sweet 16. One such student was fourth-year computer science student Luke Hatchl, who credited Թϱ’s defense — which finished first in the SEC in points allowed per game — and shooting as reasons for his prediction.

Others, including fourth-year nursing student Eli McBeth, said Թϱ’s unlucky draw in the tournament bracket is an obstacle that will keep it from making it that far.

“Going into (Sunday), I was thinking like, ‘Oh, they could go pretty far,’ but they got a pretty lousy region,” McBeth said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they lost in the second round just because they have to play Creighton.”

Թϱ earned a No. 6 seed in the tournament and will face No. 11 seed Oregon in the opening round on Thursday afternoon. The Gamecocks enter the game as narrow 1.5-point favorites over the Ducks, according to ESPN BET.

Second-year finance student Will Greene said Oregon could prove to be a tough opponent after defeating No. 2 seed Arizona and No. 10 seed Colorado on its way to a PAC-12 Tournament Championship.

“As an 11th seed, (Oregon) and NC State are making me scared," Greene said. “I’m not sure how I feel about Oregon. They got bruised a little in the PAC-12 Tourney, but they’re hot.”

A lack of high-quality teams in the Midwest Region of the bracket, however, could help Թϱ make a deep tournament run, he said.

“For the four divisions, I think we've got the best quadrant,” Greene said. “I think we would’ve been screwed if we got UConn or Auburn in our quadrant because they’re both physical teams.”

Harrington said big performances from junior guard Meechie Johnson and freshman forward Collin Murray-Boyles, who have averaged 14.4 and 10.3 points per game this season, respectively, will help the Gamecocks progress further in the tournament.

“All year, it’s been Meechie Johnson. Meechie Johnson’s hot, Meechie Johnson’s cold — 25 points a game one day, zero points the next day. If he’s on his A-game, he can make some key shots,” Harrington said. “Also, Collin-Murray-Boyles ... can match up well with Oregon, who plays in the paint a lot, and it could be a big matchup.”

First-year biology student Sean Nieprzecki said the close relationships between Թϱ’s players will give the team an advantage in the later rounds of the tournament, when it faces higher-ranked opposition.

“I saw on Instagram the other day that they were playing a little three-on-three tournament. That camaraderie and stuff like that goes a long way,” Nieprzecki said. "That’ll be the edge that they need to get over some of these other teams that might have them beat on paper.”

Team chemistry could also be a difference-maker for the women’s basketball team as it heads into the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed, first-year public health student Destiny Donald said.

“The chemistry that they all have just working together just speaks for itself, so I don’t think there will really be one person that’ll just stick out,” Donald said.

Second-year sport and entertainment management student Devin Borrero said he is impressed with the Gamecocks’ depth heading into the tournament. Թϱ has seven players averaging at least 8 points per game this season.

“It’s impressive what Dawn has done in terms of sending players to the WNBA Draft, like Aliyah Boston, and having younger teams and still being able to put out a good product,” Borrero said.

Harrington said the one team standing in the Gamecocks’ way is fellow No. 1 seed Iowa, which it could potentially play in the National Championship. The Hawkeyes are led by senior guard Caitlin Clark, who broke the NCAA’s all-time scoring record this season.

But Harrington said he only sees Iowa picking up a win over Թϱ if Clark has a high-scoring game.

“Unless they play Iowa and Caitlin Clark scores 55 (points), they’re not getting beat. They already beat LSU three times. They can beat Iowa. Iowa’s more beatable this year than they were last year, and we’re on a mission,Harrington said. “They ended our undefeated season last year, and they’re on a mission to make it done this year.”

Borrero said he believes the women’s team will win the National Championship, but also that the men’s team could come close to winning one, too. He predicts that Թϱ’s teams will replicate their results from the 2017 NCAA Tournament — the last time both of them participated in March Madness during the same season.

That year, the women clinched a national title, and the men reached the Final Four. 

“I definitely project another trophy in that trophy case (for the women’s team) coming up, and it should be fun to watch,” Borrero said. “I think the men have a good chance to make a run ... If (Murray-Boyles) can continue on his tear, along with just the depth that we have on the team, then we can make some serious noise and, hopefully, get to the Final Four."

The Թϱ women's basketball team will kick off its NCAA Tournament against No. 16 seed Presbyterian Friday at Colonial Life Arena. The game will tip off at 2 p.m. and be broadcast on ESPN.


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