The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference
The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference

The SEC Blog: Can anyone stop South Carolina?

1296 days ago
By Kevin Scarbinsky
Photo: SEC

Who's the No. 1 team in women's college basketball? Is this a trick question? No matter which poll, ranking or metric you prefer, there's only one answer. It's South Carolina.

The Gamecocks are No. 1 in the AP Poll, the USA Today Coaches' Poll, the NCAA RPI and the NCAA Selection Committee's second and final Top 16 Ranking. Makes sense when you consider their outstanding resume.

They're 29-1 overall, and that one loss to a ranked Indiana team came on Thanksgiving Day. They've since set the program record with 23 consecutive victories.

They swept through the SEC regular season without a blemish, becoming just the fourth team to go 16-0 since the conference expanded its schedule for the 2009-10 season. South Carolina is the only program in the league to go 16-0 twice in that time.

A year after watching their record streak of four straight SEC Tournament titles end and getting excused from the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16, the Gamecocks have rebounded - and scored and defended - with a vengeance. They've shown no inclination to stop here.

Next stop: Greenville, S.C., for this week's SEC Women's Basketball Tournament, which begins Wednesday. It had become the Dawn Staley Invitational, with South Carolina winning every championship from 2015 through 2018 until Mississippi State took the crown last season.

The Bulldogs continued a different trend. Four of the last five regular-season champions have gone on to win the conference tournament as well. Do the math, and South Carolina would seem to be a prohibitive favorite to complete another sweep.

But despite the consistent excellence of the Gamecocks, this league is anything but Snow White in sneakers and a bunch of overmatched dwarfs. South Carolina is one of six SEC teams that finished the regular season with 20 or more overall wins and 10 or more conference wins. The other top contenders: Mississippi State (25-5, 13-3), Arkansas (22-7, 10-6), Texas A&M (22-7, 10-6), Kentucky (21-7, 10-6) and Tennessee (20-9, 10-6).

Thanks to tiebreakers among the 10-6 teams, this week's tournament seeding breaks down like this:

1. South Carolina

2. Mississippi State

3. Kentucky

4. Texas A&M

5. Arkansas

6. Tennessee

All six of those teams, plus No. 7 seed LSU, are either ranked in the current AP Top 25 or received votes. Behind South Carolina at No. 1, you have No. 9 Mississippi State, No. 15 Texas A&M, No. 16 Kentucky and No. 25 Arkansas, with Tennessee and LSU receiving votes.

That's half the conference getting national recognition, which suggests the road to another title for South Carolina won't necessarily be easy.

Arkansas leads the league in scoring, just ahead of South Carolina. Tennessee leads the league in rebounding, just ahead of South Carolina. There are individual stars everywhere you look.

Kentucky's Rhyne Howard, who was named conference player of the year by the coaches, leads the SEC in scoring at 23.2 points a game. Texas A&M's N'dea Jones, another All-SEC first-team selection, is the league's top rebounder at 11.7 boards a game. Tennessee's Tamari Key leads the conference in blocks (2.8 per game), Vanderbilt's Jordyn Cambridge in steals (2.9 per game). Cambridge was chosen to the All-SEC defensive team.

South Carolina doesn't have a single player in the top 17 in the league in scoring, but the Gamecocks do have four players averaging in double figures, led by Mikiah Herbert Harrigan and Aliyah Boston at 12.9 points per game each.

Boston, the conference freshman of the year and defensive player of the year, and teammate Tyasha Harris were named to the All-SEC first team, with Herbert Harrigan on the second team. Staley was chosen by her peers as SEC coach of the year for the fourth time.

That balance helps explain how South Carolina beat 11 ranked teams, four of them in the top 10, three in the top five. The Gamecocks didn't just beat those teams. They beat them up, knocking down No. 2 Baylor by 15 points and No. 5 UConn by 18, to cite two memorable examples. Their final overall scoring margin of +26 points a game suggests a team on a mission that's only a third complete.

Which brings us back to our original question. There are plenty of quality teams stocked with talented players standing in the way between now and Sunday's SEC Tournament championship game but ... can one of those teams do what none of them has done all season? Can anyone stop South Carolina?