Nothing is more valuable to building a top tournament profile than beating a good team on the road. Chalk one of those résumé stuffers up to South Carolina. The Gamecocks completely controlled their game with LSU in Baton Rouge on Sunday, and their 73-57 win vaulted them onto the top line of this week's bracket as the final No. 1 seed.
For the past couple of weeks, South Carolina had just trailed Duke and Louisville. Frankly, the Blue Devils' and Cardinals' résumés were better -- Duke's pretty clearly, Louisville's just barely. But the win at LSU changed that. The Lady Tigers entered Sunday ranked fifth in the RPI, and while that was an inflated number, it still makes South Carolina's win a significant game-changer. It was just what the Gamecocks needed to leapfrog the Cardinals, whose wins this week came to teams with losing records. Duke, which still trails only Notre Dame and Stanford in top-50 wins, has scuffled as of late. After being torched at home by North Carolina last Monday night, the Blue Devils' status as a No. 1 seed was vulnerable. South Carolina grabbed it with one of the biggest road wins this year for any of the contenders not named Connecticut.
While earning a top seed is a status symbol, especially for a still-growing program like what Dawn Staley has put together in Columbia, S.C., caveats exist. While much of the bracket takes on a different look as a result of South Carolina's ascension, the Gamecocks are the ones most affected in the all-important location, location, location.
As this week's S-curve evolved into the bracket, one part became clear: South Carolina, as a newly anointed No. 1 seed, would have to open tournament play far from home -- in Seattle. Last week, South Carolina, as a No. 2 seed, was placed in Chapel Hill. That meant a potential second-round matchup with North Carolina on the Tar Heels' home floor, but it kept the Gamecocks relatively close to home. With this week's bracket, the top-seeded Gamecocks would avoid that home-court scenario but would be earning plenty of frequent flyer miles on their five-hour flight to Seattle. Let the debate rage whether it's better to be closer to campus or on a truly neutral court.
Each subregional city is already taken by a host except Toledo, Los Angeles and Seattle. None of the hosts even fall into the 8-9 seed range to give South Carolina something closer (although that brings back the non-neutral court). With Notre Dame getting first draw at Toledo, that leaves only the two West Coast cities for the Gamecocks to open tournament play. And if not a trip out west, that means the possibility of a second-round road game.
A No. 1 seed would be a good thing for South Carolina. It just won't be the perfect thing for South Carolina.
South Carolina's move to the No. 1 line keeps Louisville as the No. 2 seed in the same region as Connecticut for the same geographic principles that have been written about previously. With this week's bracket, however, that now represents the top overall seed in UConn and the No. 6 team on the board in Louisville. Duke still remains ahead of the Cardinals.
At the other end of the bracket, many will notice that Villanova and Bowling Green, two teams included last week, are no longer in the field. Neither has a top-50 win nor anything on the résumé that sparkles. That leaves them vulnerable to other clubs that have a little more in the quality win department and have started to win with more consistency, teams like Minnesota and Oregon State. Winning streaks are rare on the bubble at this point in the season. It's a big step forward for any team that can avoid the losing that tends to be more commonplace at this part of the board.
Win streaks aside, none of those bubble teams have been able to do what South Carolina did in beating a top-five RPI opponent on the road. Of course, if they did, they would cease to be bubble teams.
Those quality road wins are that big.