I don’t blame Frank Martin for how he reacted. I think he could’ve addressed it better with the media, but I don’t blame him.
He’s as frustrated as everybody else associated with South Carolina basketball. It’s a never-ending cycle – as soon as the Gamecocks start to turn the corner and take that long-awaited step toward the promised land, they step in a pothole and are back at Square One.
Obviously, Sindarius Thornwell did something to get suspended, and from the way he was jovially supporting his teammates during Sunday’s game, it appears to be minor. From what I’ve heard, he will be back this season, potentially for conference play.
But it’s still an uncertain future for the No. 19 Gamecocks, who caught the nation’s eye with an undefeated start and improved to 8-0 Sunday. Florida International at home was winnable without Thornwell, but the next stretch has two road games, one at a neutral site that might as well be a road game (Seton Hall in New York) and the rivalry game hosting Clemson. There’s also Lander, which one wouldn’t think would be terribly difficult, but how can anyone think anything’s an easy win when the Gamecocks’ most indispensable player is out?
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We’ll see what the future holds with Thornwell, and when/if he returns, USC could pick up where it left off with him and continue what’s started as a wonderful year. Shoot, there might be no dropoff – there’s nobody saying USC couldn’t win every game before conference, with or without him.
But … man. Man.
I used to scoff at people who mentioned the “Chicken Curse,” but after some of the stuff I’ve seen, it’s hard not to believe USC somehow, someway angered a roundball deity somewhere around 1973 and has spent the past close-to-45 years paying for it.
Devan Downey never played in the NCAA Tournament. USC followed back-to-back NCAA Tournament seasons with an eight-win campaign, despite having the school’s career leading scorer. The CBS graphic “No. 2 seeds to lose to a No. 15” that’s played every year during the tournament still looks like a salt cellar poured into a cracked chest, because USC holds the highest margin of defeat on it.
Martin has done so much for this program since he arrived, not only turning it into a winner, but rebuilding a breached trust within the community. Yet every time his program starts to get some momentum, an illness or an injury or a kid making a foolish mistake pops up.
The man’s won 33 of his past 42 games and should have made the NCAA Tournament last year. The reason he didn’t, they said, was strength of schedule.
The biggest reason, I’ll always say, is because it was South Carolina bidding for it instead of Syracuse and Michigan and Vanderbilt, those “name” schools that are always in the tournament. The Gamecocks were made an example of being a 24-8 Power-5 team that didn’t do enough only because they were the Gamecocks.
And yet he rebuilt the team after having to remove some players who made those foolish mistakes, got an offseason overseas trip re-scheduled for this year to get a head start on chemistry and it resulted in an 8-0 start and top -25 ranking. Folks were blowing up my phone and email asking how excited I was to be along for the ride.
Not discounting the success USC had, but I told all of them, “Slow down.” Long season, last year, etc.
Then Sunday’s announcement came right as I was stepping off the bus in Durham to cover the women’s game. I looked up at the ceiling of the bus, where coincidentally there was an emergency escape hatch, and wondered why the Gamecocks can’t find a clear path to success.
Like I said, I don’t blame Martin for reacting the way he did. He’s finding out that with USC basketball, it’s never a straight line from Point A to Point B.
It usually detours several times through Point F.
As in “Facepalm.”
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