The Southeastern Conference baseball tournament is currently underway in Hoover, Ala., with a morning game between Kentucky and Mississippi.
South Carolina will be the last team to play in this tournament. The Gamecocks got the No. 4 seed, and because they were one of the top four seeds, they received a bye out of the single-elimination first round – a new feature in the expanded 14-team tournament.
Once teams reach the second round, the tournament reverts to a double-elimination format. So USC will play in Wednesday’s fourth and final game, against the winner of Tuesday’s fourth game, between Missouri and Mississippi State.
As was mentioned in today’s print edition story, the SEC tournament doesn’t mean a whole lot for USC this year. The Gamecocks have almost certainly locked up Regional hosting rights for the NCAA tournament. And a top eight national seed remains several victories off. USC would probably have to win the SEC tournament (five wins in five days) in order to get a national seed, while also getting help from teams currently slotted as national seeds.
But like most years, USC has far bigger fish to fry than the SEC tournament. Moreover, winning an SEC regular season title over a 30-game schedule is a much more significant accomplishment than getting hot and winning the tournament. If Vanderbilt doesn’t win this tournament, nobody is going to care or remember. People are going to remember that Vanderbilt went 26-3 in the league this year – the most wins in SEC history. And they’re also going to remember whether or not Vanderbilt converted its regular season success into an Omaha trip or national title.
So while USC coach Chad Holbrook would be happy if USC won its second SEC tournament title, and first since 2004, that won’t matter much if his team gets bounced in a home Regional.
(By the way, USC has won the true SEC title – the regular season – three times, in 2000, 2002 and 2011, with a three-way tie in 2011. Also, entering this year, USC had the second best conference regular season winning percentage of any SEC team. Its .569 trailed Florida’s .602).
Consider that of the 12 teams who comprised the SEC before this season’s expansion to include Texas A&M and Missouri, USC ranks 10th in conference tournament winning percentage — .403 (25-37). Only Arkansas and Kentucky are worse. Here were USC’s SEC tournament records under Ray Tanner, along with how far the Gamecocks got in the postseason each year …
1997: 0-1, missed NCAA tournament
1998: 0-2, Regional
1999: 0-2, missed NCAA tournament
2000: 2-2, Super Regional
2001: 3-2, Super Regional
2002: 4-2 (runner-up), national runner-up
2003: 1-2, College World Series
2004: 4-0 (champions), College World Series
2005: 1-2, Regional
2006: 1-2, Super Regional
2007: 2-2, Super Regional
2008: 1-2, Regional
2009: 1-2, Regional
2010: 0-2, national champions
2011: 1-2, national champions
2012: 1-2, national runner-up
So since USC’s only SEC tournament title, it is 8-16 in eight conference tournaments, but has five Super Regional trips, two national titles and a national runner-up finish in that span.
USC might be 10th in the SEC in conference tournament winning percentage, but it is first in the league in College World Series winning percentage during its time as an SEC member — .697 (23-10). Its two titles and two runner-up finishes as a member are second only to LSU’s six titles. In terms of NCAA tournament winning percentage while an SEC member, USC is second (.698, 74-32), behind only LSU (.721, 127-49).
Does this guarantee anything for USC if it goes 1-2 or 0-2 in this SEC tournament? No. But history shows that the Gamecocks win in the postseason when it matters most – in the NCAA tournament and Omaha. Anybody associated with USC’s program would certainly take its six Omaha trips under Tanner – with two titles and two runner-up finishes – over getting to the SEC tournament title game just twice in that time, and winning it once.