March S[imulation]adness: South Carolina can play into the Final Four at home

COLLEGE PARK, MD - NOVEMBER 10: Zia Cooke #1 of the South Carolina Gamecocks talks to her teammates during the game against the Maryland Terrapins at Xfinity Center on November 10, 2019 in College Park, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images)
COLLEGE PARK, MD - NOVEMBER 10: Zia Cooke #1 of the South Carolina Gamecocks talks to her teammates during the game against the Maryland Terrapins at Xfinity Center on November 10, 2019 in College Park, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images) /

Gamecocks ‘FAMs’ to play a crucial role in tournament run

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After opening the NCAA tournament with a blowout win over Samford, No. 1 seed South Carolina looks continue what it hopes to be another run to a national championship game.

The Gamecocks have all the pieces, on and off the court, to make another to the NCAA Final Four.

On the court, as an ESPN graphic put it, there’s senior point guard Tyasha Harris, who is the MVP. Senior forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan is the enforcer. Freshman center Aliyah Boston is the beast. Freshman guard Zia Cooke is the dynamite and fellow rookie Brea Beal is the X factor. They also have players coming off the bench that could be starters on other Division I basketball teams.

Off the court, the Gamecocks’ fanbase – also known as FAMs – can be considered the sixth man.

The team averaged 12,218 fans per home game this season. The dedicated fans will be important as the team plays the start of the tournament in Columbia and look to wrap up the region in Greenville, both in South Carolina. The fans will become crucial potentially in a regional final against a team like UCLA or N.C. State.

Head coach Dawn Staley said the fanbase she built at South Carolina is a lifestyle that creates home-court advantage, which was made possible by having a supportive administration that helped her land top recruits and being able to turn that talent into wins (something for the fans to cheer for).

“When you can win at home, when you can build a fan base, they provide the energy in the building,” Staley said after the SEC tournament, which was held in Greenville. “Sometimes they can account for four or five wins just because they’re there, they’re loud, invested. I can honestly say our fans are so invested in our program. Look, I’m sitting on the bench and I look up in front of me, I look behind me all the way up to the rafters. There are people sitting there. Those aren’t my ideal seats if I go to an arena. I don’t even know if I would go sit up top.”

Fans showed up to sit wherever they could for the SEC tournament earlier this month, and they’ll likely do the same for the rest of the NCAA tournament.

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How did South Carolina get the No. 1 seed?

South Carolina (32-1, 16-0 SEC) has one loss this season, to Indiana, but heading into the NCAA tournament they were a well-oiled machine.

Herbert Harrigan is the team’s leading scorer and Harris accounts for 30.1 percent of the Gamecocks offense and two other Gamecocks also averaged double digit scoring during the season. Guard Destanni Henderson scored 21 points off the bench in the SEC tournament semifinals vs. Arkansas. It’s a reminder that any Gamecock can be a threat.

Razorbacks head coach Mike Neighbors said “they have no holes” after the 90-64 loss to the Gamecocks in the tournament semifinal game. Mississippi State head coach Vic Schaefer didn’t necessarily disagree with the idea, but said Harris and Herbert Harrigan are the team’s biggest assets.

“I’m telling you, to me the difference in their team and my team is that senior point guard and that senior four player,” Schaefer said. “Those are the two most important positions on the floor in my mind. When you got that kind of leadership, those kind of players, with the presence those kids have, it doesn’t matter who you put out there.”

Staley says her team does have holes, though she didn’t reveal them, but credits their defense for hiding their flaws from the general public. The team has combined their competitiveness, talent and experience with egoless play.

Plus, they’re just fun to watch, because they do things like this:

How does South Carolina play its way to a Final Four?

To open this year’s NCAA tournament, SEC Freshman and Defensive Player of the Year Aliyah Boston finished with a triple double: 21 points, 14 boards and 11 blocks. A reminder that they’re a threat in every position and on both sides of the ball.

To continue to the NCAA Final Four, South Carolina must continue playing the way it has. According to Her Hoop Stats, the Gamecocks rank No. 2 in offensive and defensive rating – only behind Oregon and Baylor, respectively.

In the second round, South Carolina will host Arizona State (20-11, 10-8 Pac-12) who have been up and down this season, but managed to beat Oregon and Oregon State in the same weekend. Also in the Greenville region, Iowa hosts Princeton, N.C. State hosts ODU and UCLA hosts Texas.

To make it to the regional final, and the Final Four, Staley needs her pieces to play like they have been. Though, Boston must stay out of foul trouble. More importantly, Harris should too. Harris picked up multiple fouls early during the tournament final vs. Mississippi State. She led from the bench, but without her, the game had frenetic energy and the team missed her pace.

“We go as Ty goes,” Staley said during the SEC tournament. “She can feel it. She’s got a really good pulse of our team.”

It didn’t become an issue against a Mississippi State team playing with a tired Rickea Jackson, but teams like UCLA or N.C. State, running on more than 18

hours of rest, potentially await in Greenville.

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