USC men out of Top 25, but still playing for first place in SEC

Freshman guard PJ Dozier and South Carolina upset No. 8 Texas A&M on Saturday, setting up a showdown with LSU on Wednesday for first place in the SEC. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)

COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s first road victory over a top-10 road opponent in a decade wasn’t enough to keep the Gamecocks in the Top 25. They’ll have to take solace in playing for first place in the SEC.

The USC men split a pair of road games last week at Georgia and at then-No. 8 Texas A&M, the victory over the Aggies becoming their first win on the road against a top-10 opponents since the Gamecocks defeated No. 6 Florida in 2006. But despite that latter triumph, USC still fell out of new AP Top 25 Monday.

South Carolina (20-3, 7-3 SEC) had been No. 25 last week. Monday the Gamecocks were the 26th team receiving votes, falling four points shy of knotting Wichita State for the 25th and final spot in the rankings.

The South Carolina women’s team remained No. 2 behind unanimous No. 1 Connecticut in the new women’s AP Top 25 released Monday. The Gamecocks and Huskies, the lone two unbeaten teams in women’s college basketball both at 22-0, clash Monday at 7 p.m. at a sold-out Colonial Life Arena.

The USC men have big games of their own coming up this week as well. Saturday’s noon showdown against No. 22 Kentucky is sold out, and limited tickets remain for Wednesday’s 7 p.m. game against LSU (15-8, 8-2). The Tigers come to Columbia in first place in the SEC standings, and with a one-game lead over USC, Kentucky, and Texas A&M, which fell to No. 15 in the new poll.

“I’m not going to sit here and tell you I don’t know we’re playing for sole possession of first place on Wednesday. I’m aware of all that,” USC head coach Frank Martin said Monday. “... There will be times for all that. Right now, it’s all about LSU. Do I know that if we win Wednesday, we’re in first place? Of course I know that. And our players know that also.”

The upset at Texas A&M did help solidify South Carolina’s NCAA Tournament resume, at least for the moment. The Gamecocks’ RPI climbed to 26th, although their strength of schedule remained an SEC-worst 190th, according to ESPN. In his latest bracket forecast, Jerry Palm of CBS Sports projects the Gamecocks as a No. 7 seed in the East Regional.

With Saturday’s victory in College Station, USC clinched just the sixth 20-win season in school history, and its first since 2008-09. The Gamecocks have won the SEC title just once since joining the league, and haven’t seriously contended for the conference crown in seven years.

“I just know we’re somewhere at the top,” junior guard Sindarius Thornwell said, when asked about USC’s place in the conference standings. “I just know right now we’re fighting at the top. Just taking it one game at a time, and these next couple of games are important for us.”