On the surface, it doesn’t look like a gaping wound. It’s barely a scratch, maybe one of those thistles you got stuck in your pinky when you remembered it was your anniversary and you stopped by the Kroger for a dozen reds.
South Carolina has lost two games by a combined five points, one on a neutral court, one at home. Both were to strong, physical teams who weren’t ranked (which the Gamecocks won’t be either next week) but who should make some noise in the next two months and, like USC, bid for the NCAA tournament.
The problem here is that losing games to teams like Seton Hall and Clemson deprives USC of the kind of benefit it isn’t going to get anywhere else. Pirates and Tigers lose to the Gamecocks, a .500 record in the Big East or ACC is going to overcome that and get your RPI up into respectable territory.
For the Gamecocks, they had to get these early because as usual, they’re going to get little to no help from their league. It’s silly to think that finishing 1, 2 or 3 through an 18-game conference schedule wouldn’t help a team, but it sure didn’t help USC last year.
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USC could beat Kentucky, could beat Texas A&M, could beat Florida and problem is solved. Yet one slip-up to a Missouri or a Tennessee or a Vanderbilt and that undoes a lot of the good that’s been gained.
The Gamecocks are already seeing that happen, and it’s for something they have no control over. When they beat Syracuse on Nov. 26, it was terrific. They took out a defending Final Four team ranked 16th in its own backyard.
Nearly a month later, they beat a team that’s 7-5 and has lost to 5-5 UConn, 7-4 Georgetown and 6-7 St. John’s, the last a 33-point whuppin’ that’s the worst home loss in its legendary coach’s tenure. The Red Storm came into that game having lost to Delaware State and LIU Brooklyn.
Just like last year, what looked impressive at the time is getting unimpressive in a hurry. Now, the Michigan win still counts and so does Monmouth and Vermont, each a team that should win its league. And if the selection committee holds serve (don’t hold your breath), teams get credit for scheduling tough, scheduling on the road, losing to tough teams on the road and playing without a star player.
Frank Martin made this schedule because he didn’t want a repeat of last year, where teams that looked good at the time were rocked by player defections. Now, through no fault of his, Syracuse’s downward trend is taking life from his team.
Get through SEC play with a handful of losses and it’s all gravy. Beat Lander and Memphis and the Gamecocks are 11-2 before the league (although they will get no credit for Lander even with a win since it’s a Division II opponent).
USC’s destiny is still in its hands. It just has to grasp it.
The Blame Game
Of course the ol’ Twitters were fired up after the Clemson loss, blaming Ray Tanner, USC administration and everything else under the sun for having the audacity to suspend Sindarius Thornwell when it’s costing the Gamecocks wins. Obviously we’ll never know if USC would have won had Thornwell played, but that’s always the rhetoric given in this situation.
First off, for those asking me why there’s no end in sight, there is. I wrote this last week, detailing how much longer Thornwell will be out. I truly wish I could tell you what he did to get suspended, but I don’t know. Nobody’s talking about this outside of some refuting that his arrest in May had something to do with this.
The Gamecocks lost to Clemson for several reasons. Blame last year’s selection committee, for deciding 24-8 wasn’t good enough and forcing Martin to aggressively schedule. Had that not happened, perhaps Clemson is scheduled earlier this year and Elijah Thomas (12 points) isn’t eligible. Blame TV Teddy Valentine for setting an early tone with three offensive fouls in the first seven minutes, leading to 43 fouls for the game. Blame not getting defensive rebounds and a reigning SEC superlative for going into a shooting slump.
Or in a real novel approach, blame a senior leader who committed a foolish mistake in the middle of what started out to be, and could still be, a very special year. Sindarius Thornwell has done so much good for this program ever since the day he ignored everybody telling him not to and committed to Martin and USC, but this time, he did real, real bad.
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