David Cloninger

Cloninger: Vandy win will resonate at end of year

As Frank Martin said, that’s not a bad team South Carolina beat on Saturday. He was right.

As much of a backhanded compliment as it sounds like, Vanderbilt is one helluva 8-7 basketball team. Injuries have taken their toll and caused some early losses, but by March, this is going to be one great squad.

And that is a huge, huge benefit to the Gamecocks.

As it stands right now, RPI and strength of schedule/notable wins may not matter much to USC. If this keeps up, the sheer number of wins will have them dancing.

But just in case, when Vanderbilt finishes top-four in the SEC, this win is going to look awfully nice. And the Gamecocks don’t have to play the Commodores again unless they meet in the SEC tournament. That’s a huge relief.

Did you see how the Commodores’ height and length disrupted USC’s offense from the start? The big men were taken out and the Gamecocks had to start trying to lob rainbow passes into the post. Drivers were adjusting their shots, switching to the off hand as they approached, and they didn’t have the same rhythm.

When that didn’t work, USC went to what’s worked so well this season – the 3-pointer. Nobody could get a clean look since Vandy’s length was still present on the perimeter.

The Gamecocks were able to get back in the game by hitting a few fast breaks, taking advantage of Vandy’s foul trouble (Damian Jones only playing 16 minutes was a massive arrow toward USC) and unleashing their own defense. Matt Figger’s slight tweaks to USC’s normal man-to-man worked after a couple of early collapses and the Commodores, a very good shooting team, couldn’t throw it in the Congaree after the first 10 minutes.

Vandy’s going to be really good. This team lost seven straight in January last year and still won 21 games. You’ll look back and think that it was nice to get this one.

STRIPES: I was all set to write that this game was called as preseason predictions meant it to be called. Vandy was picked second, USC seventh. There were some real, real, real curious whistles.

Then again, Jones fouled out in 16 minutes. So if the best big man in the SEC can’t get a kind eye, maybe it wasn’t that bad.

THE STREAK: Pal Andy Demetra reminded me that the next opponent, Alabama, introduces the opponents’ lineup to The Undertaker’s theme music.

How fitting now that the Gamecocks are on a streak to rival the Dead Man’s run at WrestleMania. Hope Brock Lesnar doesn’t decide to attend Wednesday’s game.

FANS: Great to see the students back in town and the arena starting to fill. This team deserves it.

Normally I wouldn’t comment. It’s college, kids get rowdy, sometimes a tight game brings out the worst of words.

But the student section at midcourt – and I know it was only a few knuckleheads among a group of otherwise great kids – you guys need to clean it up.

I understand yelling at opponents. That’s cool. I understand the "You suck" or "He sucks" or "Vandy sucks" during lineups or warm-ups, although I believe there are more creative ways to say it. I can even understand the "Bulls---" chant after some rather interesting calls.

But …

Vandy’s warming up and I’m hearing a) F-bombs, b) an offensive term to homosexuals and c) a slang term for a part of the female anatomy. Screamed at the Commodores. Several times. A few times during the game, there was a "(F) you, Vandy" chant, although one older gentleman in the high-dollar seats directly behind midcourt turned around and told them to cool it (thank you, whoever you are).

No place for that. As Martin said last week, be obnoxious. Not rude, but obnoxious. Be clever. Do research on the opponents and scientifically get in their heads. Hey, when I was in college a baseball player told me before the game that the opponent’s starting pitcher’s girlfriend had left him for the school’s quarterback. Guy lasted four outs.

That’s heckling. That’s being charming or smart-ass, depending on your point of view.

Your parents’ dollars aren’t being spent so you can use the same terms you learned for free on the playground.

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