The South Carolina Gamecocks began the 2020-21 season because the nation’s No. 1-ranked workforce and continues to be a prime seed in Bracketology. However the Gamecocks aren’t the one Remaining 4-caliber workforce within the SEC, which illustrated once more Thursday simply how aggressive and unpredictable it’s. ESPN.com’s Mechelle Voepel, Charlie Creme and D’Arcy Maine check out which SEC groups have the potential to achieve the nationwide semifinals, talk about how Ohio State continues to impression the nationwide panorama regardless of a self-imposed postseason ban and make their picks for the perfect video games on the schedule this weekend.
Making an allowance for three upsets of ranked groups within the SEC on Thursday, what number of Remaining 4 contenders aside from South Carolina does the league have?
Voepel: Thursday nights are sometimes enjoyable within the SEC, however this one was a blast. LSU gave No. 7 Texas A&M its first loss this season, Alabama beat No. 13 Mississippi State and Georgia topped No. 23 Tennessee, the latter two upsets approaching the highway. No. 17 Arkansas additionally eked out a 84-80 win at house versus Florida in a guard duel through which the Gators’ Lavender Briggs had 41 factors and the Razorbacks’ Chelsea Dungee 33.
The final time Georgia gained in Knoxville, Tennessee, earlier than Thursday was December 1996, when Chamique Holdsclaw was a Woman Vols sophomore. That 1996-97 SEC season, in actual fact, is known: Tennessee completed fifth, however went on to win the nationwide championship.
That is not prone to be repeated; the league’s greatest workforce now’s No. 5 South Carolina, which steamrolled Vanderbilt 106-43 Thursday. The Gamecocks are 9-1 and 4-0 heading into Monday’s recreation towards Arkansas (ESPN2, 7 p.m.). We all know we might see South Carolina within the Remaining 4, however who else?
Texas A&M’s wealth of riches at guard offers the Aggies a official likelihood to make it, too, however their one-point win at Arkansas final Sunday and the loss to LSU spotlight some points. The Aggies have been outrebounded by 9 at LSU, and though they compelled 22 turnovers, they dedicated 21. Texas A&M has to do a greater job of caring for the ball and serving to its publish gamers within the paint.
“I believed we did a sloppy job of dealing with their matchup zone,” Texas A&M coach Gary Blair mentioned. “Turnovers, dangerous free throw capturing. [Outscored] 38-28 within the paint, by far, that is the worst we have gotten beat.”
How the remainder of the convention shakes out continues to be exhausting to foretell, and Thursday’s outcomes muddied the water somewhat extra.
Arkansas has a whole lot of skilled guard depth, however the Razorbacks have already misplaced to Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas A&M, with South Carolina developing. Kentucky break up its first 4 SEC video games, all towards ranked groups. Becoming a member of the High 25 ballot this week, Tennessee is the sixth SEC workforce to be ranked this season, however then noticed a lead (and finally the sport) get away with a flat third quarter, outscored 29-9 by Georgia. Now Tennessee has to go to Alabama, with the Tide buzzing after their upset win in Starkville, Mississippi.
Creme: Thursday’s upset however, Texas A&M continues to be a Remaining 4 contender. The Aggies have the perfect mixture of dimension, guard play, veteran expertise and offensive and defensive stability of some other workforce within the SEC not named South Carolina.
Making that argument proper after A&M loses at LSU, which entered the sport at a disappointing 4-6, is not the perfect timing. However the recreation itself wasn’t the perfect timing for the Aggies. They have been coming off two massive wins over Kentucky and Arkansas, and have Mississippi State visiting School Station on Sunday. A letdown recreation is comprehensible, particularly on this season of uncertainty and by an A&M workforce that had by some means managed to get in (and win) 12 video games coming into Thursday. Notre Dame misplaced a recreation by 33 factors in 2018 and nonetheless gained a nationwide championship. Dropping to LSU doesn’t change the Aggies’ standing as a potential Remaining 4 workforce.
Georgia’s Que Morrison says coach Joni Taylor advised them it could take toughness and self-discipline to get the massive 67-66 win over No. 23 Tennessee.
Kentucky is the opposite SEC workforce that would make a giant NCAA event run. The Wildcats combined it up effectively with the Gamecocks final Sunday. That was Kentucky’s third loss, however the Wildcats, with loads of new faces, are nonetheless determining some issues that needs to be sufficiently solved by March.
They’ve a rookie head coach in Kyra Elzy, who continues to be attempting to include some transfers and new faces into the rotation. Given the shortage of observe time and nonconference video games to develop chemistry and the roles of a number of gamers who’re of their first seasons in Lexington, Kentucky has performed effectively. And do not underestimate that each time the Wildcats step on the ground, they’ve the sport’s greatest participant in Rhyne Howard. With all that in thoughts, the Remaining 4 would not seem to be a lot of a longshot.
Ohio State was projecting as a No. 5 seed when this system introduced it was imposing a postseason ban for 2021. The Buckeyes say they’re taking part in for pleasure and utilizing this season to prep for 2021-22, however how do they proceed to impression the nationwide panorama and even Bracketology?
Voepel: The 7-0 Buckeyes will not consider it this fashion, however they’re form of taking part in spoiler. They don’t seem to be compiling wins for an NCAA event résumé, however they’ll have an effect on different groups’ résumé.
Ohio State’s 84-82 extra time victory over Iowa on Wednesday, ending the Hawkeyes’ 41-game house profitable streak, confirmed a whole lot of moxie. They trailed by as a lot as 14 factors, and once more did not have prime ahead Dorka Juhasz (she has not performed since earlier than the Buckeyes went on a 24-day COVID-19 associated pause that began Dec. 14), they usually have been going through freshman sensation Caitlin Clark.
However they compelled 18 turnovers and have been in a position to win regardless of being outrebounded 50-42. Sophomore guards Jacy Sheldon (18.3 PPG) and Madison Inexperienced (14.3 PPG) have been main the best way, and the motto of this workforce appears to be, “Play for as we speak.” It is the perfect mentality to have, as a result of they know when the common season ends, that is it — it doesn’t matter what their report is.
We’re not used to seeing girls’s groups coping with postseason bans. You may perceive if the Buckeyes had a tough time coping with disappointment of that. However they’re specializing in what they’ll management, which is their efficiency each recreation. And hoping that no matter progress they make on this season can carry over to 2021-22.
Maine: Mechelle makes an incredible level right here: The Buckeyes get to be the final word spoiler all season lengthy. Whereas that is not precisely the place anybody on the workforce desires to be in, there’s nonetheless some enjoyable available. In a way, each workforce this season has to play prefer it could be its final recreation as a result of, effectively, it could be (simply ask the Virginia gamers). So maybe realizing the workforce is not taking part in come March really might be considerably liberating and permit better give attention to the following opponent and the following recreation solely. There could be nothing extra harmful for opponents than taking part in towards a workforce with nothing to lose.
And whereas we do not see this usually on the ladies’s facet, it isn’t significantly unusual in males’s hoops, and typically it might probably function further motivation the next season. The 2012-2013 UConn males’s workforce was banned by the NCAA, and got here again to win the nationwide championship the very subsequent yr — with Shabazz Napier famously telling the gang after the win, “That is what occurs while you ban us.”
Creme: This would possibly not be a preferred opinion in Columbus and even on the league places of work in Rosemont, Illinois, however the Buckeyes’ success is dangerous for the Large Ten. Calling them a spoiler might be being good. Each win Ohio State will get towards the likes of Iowa, Rutgers, Michigan State or Northwestern is one other potential blow to the Large Ten maximizing its NCAA event groups. The Buckeyes are already out of the event. They might be taking different groups with them.
This is not meant to be a criticism of the gamers or the teaching employees. In reality, what Ohio State is doing given its youth, the lengthy COVID-19 pause and Juhasz’s absence has been exceptional. The comeback towards Iowa was as spectacular a win as anybody has this season, particularly for a workforce whose prime two scorers — Jacy Sheldon and Madison Greene — are solely sophomores. However that loss hurts Iowa’s résumé. With such a small quantity of nonconference video games for the choice committee to judge, each convention recreation is significant. With the shortened season, each loss is that rather more vital.
Ohio State needs to be doing every thing it might probably to win the Large Ten and make this the perfect season it may be even with out the postseason as a reward. The implications for the remainder of the league are actual, nonetheless, and the Large Ten might find yourself with two fewer NCAA event groups if the Buckeyes preserve knocking off different contenders.
Iowa State beat Baylor, ending the Woman Bears’ 58-game Large 12 profitable streak, final March in what turned out to be one of many closing video games of 2020. What do you count on once they meet Saturday?
Voepel: Due of the pandemic canceling the BIg 12 and NCAA tournaments, that loss turned out to be the ultimate recreation for 3 Woman Bears seniors who have been drafted into the WNBA. Whereas Lauren Cox, Te’a Cooper and Juicy Landrum are gone, DiDi Richards — the participant who dedicated the foul that despatched Iowa State to the road for the profitable level with lower than a second left — is again. And the 2020 nationwide defensive participant of the yr shall be desperate to attempt to erase that dangerous reminiscence, as will different Baylor returnees equivalent to NaLyssa Smith and Moon Ursin.
Iowa State’s Ashley Joens, the participant who made the free throw to win that recreation 57-56, leads the Large 12 in scoring at 24.4 PPG. And on Wednesday, the Cyclones beat Oklahoma State, which got here in 5-0 in league play. From a personnel standpoint, Iowa State ought to have the ability to stick with Baylor at the least for some time, particularly if the Cyclones are capturing their signature 3-ball effectively. Nevertheless it’s exhausting to check this as something however a Baylor victory.
The Woman Bears went right into a COVID-19 pause on Jan. 5 after coach Kim Mulkey examined optimistic, so they could have some rust to shake off. However Iowa State has crushed Baylor in Waco simply as soon as — of their first assembly within the inaugural Large 12 season in 1996-97, earlier than the Mulkey period started in 2000-2001. Within the 24 years since that preliminary win, Iowa State has defeated Baylor simply seven occasions — six in Ames, Iowa, and as soon as on the Large 12 event in Kansas Metropolis.
Creme: I am curious to see if Baylor’s COVID-19 layoff produces a rusty Woman Bears’ workforce or one that’s merely hungry and aggressive. If it is extra of the latter this might be a reasonably snug Baylor win. The Woman Bears’ dimension and energy is prone to be an excessive amount of for the Cyclones even when it takes Baylor a while to get its recreation legs again.
Iowa State was good in making 16 3-pointers towards Oklahoma State on Wednesday, however it might probably’t be ignored that the Cowgirls’ 6-foot-4 Natasha Mack dominated inside with 34 factors and 13 rebounds. That’s the place Smith (17.3 PPG, 9.6 PPG) and Queen Egbo (12.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG), Baylor’s two prime scorers, thrive. If Iowa State has as a lot hassle with their bodily play because it did Mack’s, Joens and freshman Lexi Donarski won’t have the ability to make sufficient 3s to tug a second straight upset within the collection.
What recreation or workforce has the most important impression on Bracketology?
Creme: In last week’s roundtable, we mentioned how the Large Ten has grow to be ultra-competitive this season and the convention’s depth is nearly as good because it has been in a very long time. That is a giant purpose why Monday’s Michigan-Michigan State recreation in Ann Arbor is so necessary.
The Wolverines have been flying up the S-curve since being positioned as a No. 6 seed within the preseason Bracketology. Michigan is now the highest No. 4 seed within the bracket (No. 13 total) and will soar to the No. 3 line with a win over the Spartans — particularly if the Wolverines observe it up by beating Ohio State on Thursday.
Michigan State wasn’t within the subject when the season opened however is now a No. 8 seed. Nevertheless, with losses of their final two video games, the Spartans actually need a win. 4 of their subsequent 5 video games are towards Michigan and Indiana. This can be a vital a part of the schedule for Michigan State. Getting a win on Monday, made much more useful as a result of it could be on the highway, offers the Spartans some cushion ought to the remainder of this upcoming stretch not go as effectively. Going 1-3 within the subsequent two weeks may nonetheless value Michigan State a spot within the subject. Dropping all 4 undoubtedly would, and it might find yourself ruining what has been one of many shock tales of the season thus far.