South Carolina is already a shoo-in for the NCAA Tournament. The team will be zeroed in on earning a higher seeding with its performance in this week's Southeastern Conference Tournament.
The Gamecocks, which finished the regular season No. 2 in the SEC East with record of 21-6 (11-5 SEC), play Friday in the quarterfinals. South Carolina will square off against the Florida-Auburn winner at 9:45 p.m. at the Georgia Dome.
"I see a team that has the potential to win the SEC Tournament championship," USC guard BJ McKie said."I see a team that can be a third seed, or maybe a second seed (in the NCAA), depending on how the (selection) committee ranks us. At the same time, I see a team that will do some good things in the postseason."
Last year's postseason was very unkind to the Gamecocks. The team lost in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament to Georgia, then was knocked off by Coppin State in a stunning first-round upset of March Madness.
"We've put last year's (disappointment) behind us, and we're focused on what we can do this postseason," said USC forward Antonio Grant, the former North Augusta star.
Meanwhile, Georgia is in a totally different situation than South Carolina. The Bulldogs, which defeated Tennessee 77-72 on Saturday, finished the regular season with an overall record of 15-13 (7-9 SEC). Georgia's only way into the NCAA is to earn the automatic berth that comes with winning the SEC Tournament championship.
The Bulldogs play Mississippi State (15-12, 4-12) in the first round Thursday at 3:15 p.m.
"There are a lot of great teams in the SEC; anybody can beat anybody on any night," said Georgia center Larry Brown. "We are going to take that approach and hopefully we will have a good run."
According to South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler, the Gamecocks are playing their best basketball of the year right now. The team dropped a 69-57 decision to Kentucky, the regular-season champion, in the regular-season finale on Saturday, but none of the USC coaches or players seemed upset after the game.
"We've been playing our best basketball of the year the last two weeks, outside of this one (Saturday's loss)," Fogler said. "And we haven't lost two in a row all year. We'll see if we can keep that string alive on Friday."