Palmetto State positioned for major college sports sweep

col-tbuzznewThe Palmetto State is a mere speck on the map from a national perspective. As the 40th largest state in the union, you could fit five South Carolinas inside the state of California. In fact, the Golden State has eight times the number of residents as South Carolinians represent only 1.5 percent of the U.S. population.

Yet the tiny speck stands ready to put itself on the national sports map with a rare shot at the grand slam of college athletics – capturing national championships in major college football, baseball and basketball within a one-year span. The men’s Big Three hat trick hasn’t happened since … you guessed it, California back in the 1970s.

Factor women’s basketball into the equation and the history-making opportunity becomes even more monumental. No state has won all four major titles in the same calendar year (nor even in consecutive seasons for you “Tiger Slam” fans). It’s a feat so rare that it has never been accomplished in college athletics – and little ol’ South Cackalacky has a puncher’s chance.

Before you dismiss the notion of the South Carolina men’s and women’s basketball teams making a mad dash through March Madness, remember that this whole possibility began with the unlikeliest of Palmetto State underdogs. Coastal Carolina’s surprising run to the College World Series title set the wheels in motion and sent a message to our in-state big brothers that they had better step up their games.

They have done just that. Although not as shocking as the Chanticleers bringing home a huge hunk of hardware from Omaha, Clemson’s journey to the college football championship was similarly thrilling. The Tigers got a second shot at heavyweight Alabama and took full advantage, ending a 36-year national title drought when the game’s deciding pass landed softly in Hunter Renfrow’s hands.

I must admit, when the South Carolina men’s basketball team got off to a hot start, I joked about putting the Gamecocks on the championship clock for a Palmetto State trifecta. Just as South Carolina appeared to make its usual March fade entering the Big Dance, Frank Martin’s boys sent Duke home crying to reach the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since the early 1970s. Of course, making the Sweet Sixteen wasn’t as difficult back when there were only 32 teams in the tournament.

As expected, Dawn Staley’s crew punched their fourth straight Sweet Sixteen ticket and join their male counterparts as being four wins away from a national title. And for good measure, the Coastal Carolina men’s basketball team has made a late-season surge to the championship series of the College Basketball Insider’s Tournament – not exactly the Big Dance, but a dance nonetheless. The Gamecocks and Chants are part of an exclusive group that are still playing hoops in the spring.

Coincidentally, the last time the Gamecocks found themselves this close to winning a men’s hoops national title was about the same time that the state of California was posting its hat trick. The Southern Cal football team won a share of the then-mythical national title in 1974 – during UCLA’s string of national hoops crowns under John Wooden (1967-73) and USC’s streak of five straight CWS titles (1970-74). In case you want to protest the split national football title in 1974, the Trojans won it outright in 1972 to complete the trifecta.

So say what you want about the Palmetto State; we will do our talking on the sports courts and fields. And although completing the historic sweep might be a long shot for the state of South Carolina, at least we’re still holding the broom.

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