Saturday, January 9, 2010

South Carolina Season's Success Questionable

Following a 20-10 inaugural season at USC, second year Head Coach, Darrin Horn is facing a challenging task to compete and win in the SEC this year. The SEC East has Kentucky 15-0, Tennessee 11-2, Florida 11-3, Vanderbilt 11-3, Georgia 8-5 and South Carolina 9-5.  USC will have to play each of these teams twice this season.  The good news, Coach Horn has only lost four games in Columbia.  The SEC West has Ole Miss 12-2, Mississippi 12-3, Alabama 10-4, LSU 9-5, Auburn 9-6 and Arkansas 7-8.  The Cocks play western division team once during the regular season.  USC will play MSU, Bama and LSU at home.  They will then travel to Auburn, Ole Miss and Arkansas, venues that have been tough for the Gamecocks in past years. 

Throughout the summer, there has been great anticipation over the prospect of seeing a basketball team with highly promoted newcomers, four returning starters and a host of regulars returning.  Devan Downey and Dominique Archie said no to professional careers and the promise of an improved season was on the horizon.  After three impressive wins against Alabama A&M, Georgia Southern and LaSalle, along with a close encounter with South Florida to start 4-0, South Carolina faced an athletic Miami squad that was also coming off 4 impressive victories.  In the early minutes it looked like these teams both coached by good young coaches would be in a race to the baskets, until Dominique Archie sustained a knee injury, following a steal and dunk play, that eventually ended his season.  Without Archie and the first noticeable signs of former shooting guard, Zam Fredrick, the Gamecocks begain to struggle with offense resulting in the 85-70 loss to the Hurricances.  The team returned home, only to require a superior game by Downey, with 34 points, to squeak past a pesky Jacksonville team 97-93.  Then, to add insult to injury, Mike Holmes sustains an eye injury during the Thanksgiving holidays and is slated as indefinite as an active player.  After this setback, an athletic but undersized Western Kentucky squad fell to the Cocks 74-56, but the game was much closer during the majority of the game.  A trip to Clemson seemed to ignite Brandis Raley-Ross, but the more physical Tigers maintained home court with a 72-61 victory.  Following a 10-day layoff the Gamecocks entertained a good Richmond Spider team that scrapped with the host team, but an impressive team effort wore the Spiders down in the second half and they cruised to a 76-58 win and a 7-2 record going into the holiday break.  An in-state token visit to the small division II Wofford was met with a well coached, hungry but athletic team that was not intimidated, as the Terriers handed South Carolina a 68-61 upset that shocked everyone but Wofford.  The Gamecocks punished Furman 81-57 two days later in a game that saw an undermanned Paladin squad make South Carolina look like a powerful SEC team with a deep bench.  That myth was dispelled after Christmas when the Gamecocks travelled to Boston College only to be manhandled by the Eagles 85-76.  Proir to that ballgame, Holmes is dismissed from the team for team rules violations and another key player is loss for the season.  The Baylor Bears arrived in Columbia three days later and continued to bring the Gamecock hopefuls down to earth with another USC beat down 85-74.  Kamakaze defense in the second half, along with strong offensive scoring by Downey allowed the latter two games to finish with respectable scores.  Coach Horn finished the non-conference schedule with a bench clearing victory over Longwood 88-58, as his team prepares for the opening of SEC play Saturday at Auburn University.  The Auburn game may just define if the 9-5 Gamecocks can win enough games in the conference to have a chance at post season play, in the NCAA's or even the NIT.  The chance to win a minimum of the 11 games now needed to reach the magic number of 20 seems extremely dismal at this point.  With 10-6 being very respectable last season, but short of the necessary totals to carry the team to the dance, the prospects of a losing season in the SEC could leave this team completely out of the post season picture after the SEC tournament.  A 6-10 SEC record may be a morale victory for the season, but a disappointment to all who support the program.