David Cloninger

Cloninger: Gamecocks can still do plenty of talking

Retin Obasohan drives to the basket as Mindaugas Kacinas defends.
Retin Obasohan drives to the basket as Mindaugas Kacinas defends. USA TODAY Sports

Michael Carrera looked at me as if I’d said something bad about his mother.

“Yes we have,” he said, knowing full well I’d been around for it. “Last year, we lost eight in a row. So now we know what to do. Now we’re more experienced, now we got to go back home and just do what we do.”

I should have worded it better – I asked what the Gamecocks will do after a loss since they haven’t experienced it yet. Carrera corrected that (although last year’s longest losing streak was four). I should have said “this year.”

The Gamecocks were humbled Wednesday. Blown out, embarrassed, boat-raced – however you want to put it, it was awfully tough to believe this was a 15-0 Top 20 team three hours before midnight.

Now the questions begin. Were they really that good? Is this the start of “Here we go again?” Did the Crimson Tide expose serious holes in USC’s game, ones that the rest of the SEC will surely pick up on and game-plan for?

Most importantly, what now? They’ve been saying all year they’re even-keeled, can handle anything, but they haven’t had to do it after a loss (THIS YEAR). So coming back home to face a Missouri team that just found out it’s not going to the postseason and has beaten one Power-5 team all season (Auburn, which USC also beat), what will we see?

Something better than Wednesday, because it can’t be much worse.

“We got out-rebounded,” Frank Martin said, ticking each point off on his fingers. “We got beat to every ball, we couldn’t guard the ball, we couldn’t guard ball screens, we were late on our rotations.”

Add not being able to throw it in the ocean and yeah, that’s a 23-point drubbing from one of the formerly worst-shooting teams in the league. And a whole lot of the national chirping that is saying USC was a fraud all along.

Been watching this game my whole life and I know how it works. It’s not wins and losses and RPI and strength of schedule so much as it is talking. The more you’re getting talked about at the end of the year, the better your NCAA tournament chances are going to be.

The earlier in the season you start getting talked about as being in danger of missing the tournament, the more that’s going to stick in heads in March when it’s time to pick the 68. So it was that the Gamecocks’ resume was being discussed (not a lot of wins over top teams there) as soon as the buzzer sounded.

USC hasn’t beaten a lot of great teams, sure, but 15 wins is 15 wins. Nobody can take those away. There are a lot of teams that don’t have that – like, say, the defending national champions.

RPI and SOS don’t mean anything without the wins, and if a team has enough wins to make the committee say, “OK, no way we can keep them out,” it’s all taken care of. USC is still clearly in that realm. Just by straight numbers, the Gamecocks can go 8-7 the rest of the way and be 23-8 going to Nashville. No matter what, they’ll be a Power-5 team with over 20 wins and not double-digit losses.

It’s all about getting to that conference tournament weekend and having people talk about you as 6 p.m. Sunday approaches. The Gamecocks were awful Wednesday, but it was “one bad night awful,” not “systemic awful.” They were belted with a 2x4 but there’s still plenty of time to get back in the ring.

“If these guys, especially these two guys, act the way I think they will tomorrow, we’ll be real good in practice,” Martin said of Carrera and Sindarius Thornwell. “Go out and play Saturday and hopefully play a lot better than we played today.”

They’d be hard-pressed to play worse. But as people talk leading up to Saturday, the conversation hasn’t ended.

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