TRC Unleashed 96 – 1-0 Is Better Than 0-1

TRC Unleashed is finally back, although minus one member of the team. Connor Tapp from 247Sports fills in for Tbone and joins Buck and Gman to review South Carolina’s season opening win over North Carolina State. The trio talks offense, defense, and don’t forget SPECIAL TEAMS PEOPLE. They also cover what went on over the weekend in the SEC and explain why your should never pull for Tennessee (as an example).

You can stream from the site by clicking the logo below, or check us out on iTunes, and enjoy!

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Snap Judgments – South Carolina vs. North Carolina State

Photo courtesy thestate.com

Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 35-28 victory over North Carolina State.

Elite. Make no mistake, the victory Saturday over North Carolina State was a complete team effort. Offense, defense, special teams, and all the sub-groups that make up those units had significant contributions in the mild upset of a dark horse contender for the ACC title. But this game was about two guys in particular – Deebo Samuel and Jake Bentley.

Samuel electrified the crowd by taking the opening kickoff of the season back 97 yards for a touchdown. He later scored on a quick slant from six yards out, and then snared a 39-yard rope from Bentley with one hand that is an early candidate for play of the year. One year ago we still weren’t completely sure what we had in Samuel. When healthy he showed flashes of brilliance, but a balky hamstring kept him from reaching his full potential each of the last two seasons. Now Samuel is having high praise heaped on him from national media outlets. Completely healthy, he is the go-to playmaker this team has been missing since Pharoh Cooper took his talents to the NFL.

Meanwhile, Bentley is also drawing high praise after his performance yesterday. His numbers won’t exactly put him in the early Heisman conversation (17-29/215/3 TD/1 INT) but the leadership and poise he showed are those of someone well beyond his years. Oh, and about that elusiveness and arm strength:

Bentley was far from perfect. He missed a handful of easy throws, and had one ill-advised deep ball early that should’ve been intercepted. But regarding those, there is one thing of which we can be assured – he will work hard to correct, and will correct, those mistakes.

The fate of the 2017 season, at least offensively, rests on the shoulders of these two guys.

Statistically speaking. Uh, if you haven’t already, don’t look at the statistics. Just don’t. I know, the only statistic that matters is the final score, but it is a little disturbing that we were doubled up in total yardage and allowed a 400-yard passing game to a slightly above average ACC quarterback.

As we found out last year, bend but don’t break is great when it works, but you can’t rely on it week in and week out. Our pass rush improved as the game went on, but our coverage skills, particularly on one side of the field (cough, King, cough) did not. I loved how some of our young guys looked on the defensive line and at linebacker in particular, but we desperately need to find a way to get off the field on third down more often.

D-lighted. On the bright side, DJ Wonnum and Kier Thomas in particular had very good games on the defensive line, helping the Gamecocks record four sacks on the day while the Wolfpack’s all-world defensive line only had two. In addition, linebacker TJ Brunson racked up 16 (!) tackles and fellow ‘backer and freshman Sherrod Greene showed great speed and aggressiveness while he was on the field. Jamyest Williams took his lumps in the secondary, but he was often matched up against Jaylen Samuel, arguably NC State’s best offensive player. All the freshmen and sophomores in the defensive rotation acquitted themselves well despite the high yardage total given up, which bodes well for the future of the defense.

MIA. The Gamecock run game was non-existent yesterday, which for the moment we will attribute to the stout front seven of NCSU. In a mild upset, AJ Turner got second team carries at tailback over Ty’Son Williams. I’m not sure if that’s a product of Turner’s longevity and good standing with the staff, or if he’s actually outplayed Williams in the preseason. Regardless, neither had an impact on the game, with Turner getting one carry for two yards, and Williams not being credited with a rushing attempt and catching one pass for five yards.

Also missing were our pass catching tight ends. Preseason All-SEC selection Hayden Hurst had a man-sized block on Rico Dowdle’s second touchdown run, but caught only one pass for minus two yards on the day. Neither K.C. Crosby nor Jacob August had a catch. Maybe it was a product of NC State’s defense, but we’ll need production from that position for our offense to be all it can be.

Prevent(s you from winning). The Gamecocks punted to the Wolfpack with 1:38 left in the first half and up by seven. NC State took possession on its own 21 and proceeded to march 79 yards in 10 plays for the game-tying touchdown. How the hell do you get off TEN plays in 1:38? Well, if the defense mostly rushes three and gives a 10-12 yard cushion and doesn’t guard the boundary, turns out it’s pretty darned easy. I still haven’t figured out what the staff was thinking.

Under center. On our final offensive possession, Jake Bentley went under center on second down. I was actually thinking earlier in the week if I could remember Bentley taking a snap under center, and I couldn’t. That second down snap was the first time I can ever remember it happening. I thought it was odd timing given the danger of fumbling a snap in that situation.

However, I do like the fact we are practicing at least some under center. There’s not much worse than a fourth-and-inches situation and seeing a team line up in the shotgun.

Harmon-ized. Sophomore Kelvin Harmon led the Wolfpack in receiving with 10 catches for 114 yards. You may remember Harmon as a former Gamecock commit who spurned the Gamecocks when Steve Spurrier retired. Harmon was the target for NCSU quarterback Ryan Finley on the Wolfpack’s last ditch attempt to tie the game. That would’ve been quite a kick in the jubblies.

Hold the LOLs. Last year at this time we were looking ahead to facing a Mississippi State team that had just been upset by South Alabama. We all had a good laugh at their misfortune, and while we weren’t chalking up a victory quite yet, we certainly felt good about the possibility of going into Starkville and getting the W. We received our comeuppance in the form of a 27-14 beatdown that wasn’t nearly that close.

Yesterday we watched in amazement as Missouri State rolled up 35 points and moved the ball at will against next week’s opponent, Missouri. It was once again LOL-worthy seeing a future conference opponent get shredded like that. However, the Tiger defense tightened up in the second half while their offense never slowed down, scoring 72 points and finishing with 815 total yards.

I’ve seen a lot of Gamecock fans feeling confident about this game, thinking “they won’t be able to stop us, and surely our defense is better than Missouri State’s”. All I can say is, not so fast my friend. Yes, our defense is probably better, but that doesn’t mean this won’t be a shootout. Remember, we gave up a boatload of yards to an offense yesterday that is not nearly as potent as Missouri’s. This game will be a battle, and the fact the Tigers have been installed as a 4.5 point favorite, I think the folks in Las Vegas agree.

Go Cocks.

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Pre-snap Read – South Carolina vs. North Carolina State 

LET’S GOOOOOOOOO

We had every intention of recording a preseason podcast last night. But due to my lingering extreme tiredness after spending most of Tuesday night and Wednesday morning vomiting my guts up in a Washington, D.C. hotel room, I decided to sleep instead. (You ever been alone and sick in a hotel room 700 miles from home? It is the WORST man. You revert to being a 3-year-old whimpering and crying for mommy to make it all better.) Anyhoo, instead of a podcast here’s a pseudo preview of tomorrow afternoon’s opener against NC State.

Saturday? What is this voodoo about us kicking off our first game on a Saturday anyway? If you wanted one final sign that the Spurrier era is officially over, this is it. The HBC loved being the “first game” of the season and all the attention that came with the Thursday night slot. In Spurrier’s 11 years at the helm we opened on Thursday night nine times.

Will Muschamp? I’m not sure he gives two rips about when the first game is played. I would expect to see us opening on the first Saturday most years from here on out. Either way, we know we’ll either be 1-0 or 0-1 come Sunday morning.

One year ago today. 365 days ago we were opening on the road at Vanderbilt (on a Thursday) with a new head coach and full of piss and vinegar. Based on strong spring game performance (which was basically a game of two-hand touch) we believed it was just a matter of time before Brandon McIlwain took over the starting quarterback job and held onto it for a very long time. We had yet to be introduced to a bevvy of newcomers, including Brian Edwards and DJ Wonnum. It would be several weeks before we were introduced to critical offensive pieces Rico Dowdle and Jake Bentley. And we were hoping against hope that Will Muschamp knew what the hell he was doing after a high-profile faceplant at Florida.

Muschamp has done a fantastic job of transforming the roster over the last 20 months, adding talent and a little depth. The verdict is still out, and the jury will be deliberating a while, but we are definitely in a better position today that we were last year in Nashville.

What we’re excited about:

Jake Bentley. It’s hard to not be excited about a kid with his poise and talent WHO SHOULD STILL BE IN HIGH SCHOOL…oh wait, never mind, that was last year. I dare say that after seven whole college football games, Bentley might be the most NFL-ready quarterback we’ve ever had at South Carolina. No, I don’t mean he’s ready to jump to The League today, but he has the measurables and intangibles that NFL scouts are looking for – size, arm strength, feel for the game, work ethic, and so on. The old saying goes you improve the most between your freshman and sophomore years, and if that’s the case we are all justified in expecting big things from number 19.

Weapons. Bentley has a ton of weapons to work with on the offensive side of the ball. Dowdle and AJ Turner are proven commodities in the backfield, and they’ll be joined by North Carolina transfer Ty’Son Williams, a guy who many believe is the best of the bunch. Much has also been written about our veteran trio of pass catchers, Edwards, Deebo Samuel and Hayden Hurst. These six guys combined have all the skills needed to make something happen with the ball in their hands – power, elusiveness and speed. The only problem? There’s only one ball.

Freshmen – Offense. Even with six guys we know will get touches practically every game, the brothers Smith, OrTre and Shi (I know, they’re not really brothers) have created a lot of buzz in camp. OrTre is a big-bodied receiver who recovered from a broken foot his senior year of high school to participate in Spring practice and make an impression on the coaches. I’m hesitant to compare him to Alshon Jeffery before he ever takes a snap but…oh hell it’s still preseason and I’m not hesitant HE’S THE NEXT ALSHON JEFFERY.

Even though he was a heavily sought-after four-star recruit, Shi has been a bit of a surprise this fall. Muschamp announced him as a starter in a three-receiver set, so he has obviously shown some playmaking ability at practice. I’m cautiously optimistic we’ll try to get him the ball in space a couple of times on Saturday.

Skai. Welcome back number 10.

Other Linebackers – Any of Them. Skai and Bryson Allen-Williams are the dependable anchors of the defense. T.J. Brunson will be the other starter. I’m excited about the freshmen and newcomers we have at the position, but one or more will need to step up to spell the starters and to also give us some experience for the coming years. Davonne Bowen, Sherrod Greene, Eldridge Thompson, Damani Staley – I don’t care who steps up, but somebody has to.

Newcomers/Freshmen – Defense. Javon Kinlaw is a mountain in the middle and will help plug some of those big holes opposing running backs exploited last year. Aaron Sterling and Brad Johnson will hopefully give a shot of energy to what was an anemic pass rush. Keisean Nixon is the type of physical presence we need at the back of the defense.

But the guy on D to watch for is our very own Honey Badger, Jamyest Williams. He brings an attitude and competitiveness to the defense that we haven’t seen since DJ Swearinger. He is relatively small, but is extremely athletic and uses his hips and balance to allow him to match up with just about any receiver. Williams is the kind of guy that forces quarterbacks to make perfect throws.

What we’re concerned about:

The O Line. For our offense to have any success at all we need Jake Bentley to be upright and healthy. He was mostly healthy last year, but he was not upright nearly as much as we would’ve liked. Zack Bailey is a future starter in the NFL, but the rest of the line has a lot to prove. They’ll need to create holes for our backs, which will in turn create time for our quarterback, which will in turn allow Kurt Roper to mix it up with the playbook. The fierce NC State defensive line will be a good litmus test for this group.

The defensive backfield. We have veteran starters in corner Jamarcus King (who we hope has gotten stronger) and safety Chris Lammons (who we hope has learned to not throw punches at guys wearing helmets). There has been a lot of talk about Rashad Fenton possibly becoming the best corner on the team, and D.J. Smith is solid if not spectacular at the other safety position. Williams is a welcome addition at the nickel, but then the depth starts to fall off quite a bit. Jaylin Dickerson and Chris Smith are Freshmen who will miss the season due to injury, and Tavyn Jackson and Stephen Montac have battled injuries are expected to miss time. We cannot afford any more injuries in the back of the D.

Special teams. Lammons will be returning punts, which is a good news/bad news situation. The good news is he has shown flashes of being pretty good at it. The bad news is that’s 4-6 more opportunities for him to get dinged up and take him away from his primary role, as noted above. Kickoff returns I expect to be average to above average, but the kicking game is a hand-wringer at the moment. We still haven’t decided on a field goal kicker to replace Elliott Fry, and will also be trotting out a new punter.

Injuries. They have already taken a toll on our defensive backfield. There are a few positions like running back and defensive line where we could probably take a hit, but for the most part we need our starting 22 to stay as healthy as possible. One place where we cannot, and I mean CANNOT, have an injury is at quarterback. If Bentley goes down for any extended period of time we are blanking blanked.

Misc:

The ‘Pack. NC State is a middling ACC team, much in the way South Carolina has returned to being a middling SEC team. Unfortunately, tomorrow we’ll be catching one of the better Wolfpack teams in recent memory. As previously stated, they have an outstanding defensive line, but could be vulnerable in the back seven if Bentley gets time to throw. On offense, quarterback Ryan Finley is somewhere on the “meh” spectrum, but has excellent weapons on the outside in Jaylen Samuels and Nyheim Hynes. The ‘Pack will also be replacing their excellent tailback from last year, Matthew Dayes.

The Prediction. The final score will be 27-24. I don’t know who’s going to win, that’s why they play the game. But I expect an ultra-competitive, fun football game from the start.

The Season. Funny thing about football, sometimes you can have more talent and a better team, but not gain any ground record-wise over your previous team. I really like the talent on this Gamecock squad. But there is a lot of youth and too many question marks to think we’ll improve very much on our 6-6 regular season from last year, especially with the out of conference schedule as tough as it’s been in quite a while. My head says 6-6, but my heart says 7-5 and maybe a Belk Bowl appearance.

The great thing about today is 15-0 is still a possibility, and by God that’s exciting. Football is here my friends, we look forward to the ride with you.

Go Cocks.

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Reports: Kingston to Take the Reins of Gamecock Baseball

(Photo: baseballamerica.com)

Multiple media outlets are now reporting that South Florida’s Mark Kingston will be the next head baseball coach at South Carolina.

My official statement on this hiring:  MEH.

Mark Kingston will be announced at a press conference shortly, and Ray Tanner will sing his praises and call him a great recruiter and motivator. Kingston will give a fiery speech and “win” the press conference, and we’ll all feel a little bit better about not getting Kevin O’Sullivan or Brian O’Connor or even Monte Lee. All those things will happen, guaranteed.

But those things won’t completely cover up the disappointment. The disappointment of Tanner once again missing on his first, second, and maybe even third choices. The disappointment of getting a guy the vast majority of us had never even heard of before two weeks ago.

Think back to everyone’s list of replacements the day after Chad Holbrook was fire…er…resigned. There were at least a dozen names tossed around. Coaches who’ve won conference titles, regionals, super regionals, and College World Series titles. NAME coaches. Coaches who media and fans alike felt like a program like South Carolina wanted and deserved. Look at the words of Ray Tanner himself:

“I believe very strongly that our job here is a top three or top five job in the country so we’ve attracted a lot of really good candidates.”

With all due respect, a top three or top five job in the country shouldn’t be hiring Mark Kingston from South Florida. That’s not a knock on Kingston’s coaching ability and it doesn’t mean I won’t get 100% behind him as he tries to get us back to Omaha. That’s a knock on one of the great Gamecocks of all time, Ray Tanner.

It’s beyond obvious this wasn’t his first choice. If Tanner wanted Kingston from the beginning, he could have had him 30 minutes after the Holbrook resignation press conference. But Tanner had bigger fish in his sight. Fish that were playing well into the postseason, and one fish in particular that won a national championship. But in the end he couldn’t land that fish, and once again we’ve had to settle.

I’m going to be all in on Mark Kingston, as all Gamecocks should be. I’m going to pull for him like crazy, and I hope he succeeds will beyond our wildest dreams. But given the high hopes I had going into this search, it’s going to take me a little time to get used to the idea.

I’m also going to cross my fingers that he doesn’t block us on Twitter.

Go Cocks.

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Holbrook Resignation Complicated, But Not That Complicated

(Photo credit: ABC Columbia)

“For a program that measures itself by College World Series appearances and results, not making the 64-team field is unacceptable.” – Josh Kendall, The State, May 29

By every account, Chad Holbrook is a fine man. His son Reece fought and beat cancer, and Holbrook has spent much of his free time raising significant amounts of money to go towards pediatric cancer research. No matter what happens with his baseball career, he will have no accomplishment on the baseball diamond that will top that.

By every account, Chad Holbrook was an outstanding assistant baseball coach. In his 15 seasons at North Carolina the Tar Heels made 11 NCAA tournament appearances and three College World Series trips. As Associate Head Coach at South Carolina, he was instrumental in helping build a team that went to three College World Series’ and won two. When Ray Tanner took the job as South Carolina Athletic Director after the 2012 season, it was a foregone conclusion that Holbrook would take over, and I don’t think Gamecock fans had much of a problem with that. Holbrook had been groomed for many years, it was his time.

In 2013 Holbrook guided the Gamecocks to within a game of another CWS. Oddly, it was in the deciding game of that Super Regional series against his former team, UNC, that we began to see the first chink in his managerial armor. The crime? Sacrificing one of his best hitters, Joey Pankake, in the first inning of that game with no score. (Many will argue they saw issues long before this, but this is the first time I remember recognizing it as a significant flaw in his strategic thinking.)  Regardless, it was a very good season and nobody really complained about missing the CWS for the first time in four years.

In 2014 the Gamecocks shockingly lost to Maryland at home in the NCAA Regionals, with the final game being a 10-1 whitewashing. Again, you run into a hot team at the wrong time in the tournament and bad things happen. There was no need to panic at this point.

In 2015, USC went 13-17 in the SEC and missed the NCAA Tournament altogether. In the day and age of social media, and specifically Twitter, it was now time to panic. This Gamecock program, what we believed to be an elite national program, did not miss the NCAA Tournament. The fringe began to call for Holbrook’s firing, but the moderates among us knew that was not an option after only three years.

The 2016 season was a strange one. The cry for Holbrook’s head grew during the course of the season as, after starting the SEC slate 6-0 against Arkansas and Ole Miss, the team lost weekend series to Vanderbilt, Georgia, Kentucky, and Texas A&M. But sandwiched around those losses were sweeps of mediocre to bad teams Tennessee, Missouri and Alabama. In the end, sweeping five series and not being swept in any resulted in a 20-9 conference finish and first place in the SEC East. That’s great, isn’t it? Call me foolish, but something just didn’t feel right.

As a host in the NCAA Tournament, with Clemson looming as a Super Regional opponent, the Gamecocks lost the opening game to Rhode Island (RHODE ISLAND) to fall into the loser’s bracket. Fortunately, the overall regional draw was extremely weak, and USC breezed past Duke, Rhode Island again, and then UNC Wilmington twice to make it to the Super Regional. Clemson lost their regional, and the Super fell into Columbia’s lap the following weekend. A red-hot Oklahoma State pitching staff rode into town and ended the season for South Carolina.

In my humble opinion, 2016 was fool’s gold for Gamecock fans. A weak bottom of the SEC combined with a fortuitous draw in the NCAA tournament led to the easiest path to a Super Regional we will ever see. Proponents of Chad Holbrook will always say “yeah, but they made a Super you idiot!” I can’t deny that, but look under the covers. There were still problems.

(Side note, SEC Tournament wins for Chad Holbrook to this point: 0.)

I won’t even rehash 2017, because you’ve heard it all. A preseason top five ranking turned into a complete disaster only rivaled by the 2014 football team in Gamecock lore. Players who were expected to take a step forward didn’t. The deep pitching staff was shallow as puddle. And Chad Holbrook continued to make mind-boggling in-game decisions, and even took a shot at our fans in frustration. It literally couldn’t have gone worse. Was all of this Chad Holbrook’s fault? Of course not, but this is life in sports. When things don’t go well, more often than not the head man takes the fall.

So now, after two weeks of back-and-forth about the future of Holbrook, he is gone. Some people will argue that he should still be our head man, but the evidence doesn’t support that. Consider:

Pros

2 Super Regionals

1 Regional

1 First-place SEC East Finish

40 win average

Cons

0 College World Series

2 Missed NCAA Tournaments

4-17-1 in series against top 50 RPI teams (2015-2017)

2 losing records in SEC play

8 straight series losses in SEC play (2017)

3 straight series losses to Clemson

3 SEC Tournament wins in five years (all this year)

2 humiliating blowout losses to UNC

Now look back at the opening quote from Josh Kendall. This was not a difficult decision. And please don’t throw out ridiculous hypotheticals – “so if Chad had made 5 straight Super Regionals should he have been fired?”. Of course not, context matters. And the context of the last five years is simply not good enough.

Finally, about our fans. Aaron Fitt wrote this ridiculous piece about Holbrook and Gamecock fans. First, to say Holbrook was dismissed…er, “resigned”…because the relationship with fans became toxic is an insult to Ray Tanner. All I’ve read about Ray Tanner is how hard he studies the facts of the situation and makes an educated decision based on those facts. The fact is Ray Tanner has higher expectations for this program, just like the fans. That’s why Chad Holbrook is no longer our coach.

And we have high expectations? And we’re spoiled? You’re damn right on both accounts. I can’t defend anyone spewing personal venom towards Holbrook or the players during games or on social media. We frankly don’t need those fans. But the vast majority of Gamecock fans are passionate, loyal, and devote an inordinate amount of time and resources to all our athletic programs, of which baseball is a crown jewel. We’re not going to take a back seat to anyone on the baseball diamond, and we’re not going to keep quiet when we feel a change is needed. No apologies here.

I feel bad for Chad Holbrook, I really do. If you’ve ever lost a job it is horrible feeling, and can scar you for a long time. I wish him nothing but success in the future, and hope he bounces back quickly.

Go Cocks.

 

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Did the Bunt Work? Midseason Report

With the season halfway through the books, @FeatherdWarrior from @DidtheBuntWork joins us to investigate…well, did the bunt work? (Note: statistics do not include last night’s game against Mississippi State.)

It’s been a long week folks. The 20-5 drubbing Carolina endured at the hands of the Tarheels has reignited the debate around the hotness of Chad Holbrook’s seat for a second straight year. The consensus seems to be that if it’s not hot, it’s definitely uncomfortably swampy. Given the intensity of that debate, I thought it might be a good time to take a detour and check in on our little project account @didtheBUNTwork.

The basics are pretty simple. To date, the South Carolina Gamecocks have executed 11 successful bunts out of 27 attempts. That’s a success rate of about .407, which looks pretty good if you’re comparing it to the team batting average (sitting at .274 at the time of this writing). However, keep in mind we’re defining a successful bunt as one that advances a runner who later scores, so comparing a bunt success ratio to a batting average isn’t exactly apples-to-apples. For one thing, even a “successful” bunt can result in an out. Assuming most of our bunts are sacrifices with zero outs, we’re essentially giving a bunt a whole inning of at-bats before we conclude whether it was successful. Therefore, I think I more appropriate benchmark would be to multiply the team batting average by 3 since, if the bunt weren’t an option, the team would have three outs to score the runner. In that case, a .407 success rate doesn’t look all that good next to an .822 success rate (.274 x 3), does it?

Before you say anything, I’m well aware of how crude this comparison is. This is the equivalent of a napkin scribble to settle an argument in a bar. For all the attention our bunting receives on Twitter, no one ever seems to address it in any kind of intellectually rigorous way. This is my attempt at doing so. I’m not trying to add Bill James’s sword to my throne or anything.

With that in mind, here are some other interesting nuggets I’ve pulled out from the data I’ve collected so far.

Eight bunts (.296) have failed to advance any runners. A major reason for utilizing the bunt is to guarantee advancing at least one runner at least one base. If we’re not even advancing a runner 30% of the time, how effective can that strategy be? Another 4 bunts (.148) only advanced a runner because the opposing team committed a fielding error. That means nearly 45% of the time (.444) our players cannot execute a bunt correctly. Granted, not all of our bunt attempts are sacrifices. Sometimes we actually bunt for a hit, but that’s extremely rare. So far this season we’ve successfully bunted for a hit a dismal 2 of 27 (.074) times.

For the season, the Gamecocks have logged a +31 weighted base runner differential. This is something I kind of made up, but basically you weight the bases 1-4 with 1st base being a 1 and scoring a run being a 4. So if a bunt advances a runner from 1st to 2nd, the WBD would be +1 (2 – 1 = 1), assuming the batter is called out. If the batter is safe the WBD would +2 (2 -1 +1 = 2). This means that, on average, the Gamecocks advance a runner 1.15 bases per bunt attempt. Six times a Gamecocks bunt has resulted in a 0 WBD and twice it has resulted in a negative WBD.

Danny Blair (.239 batting average) is the Gamecocks’ most prolific bunter with seven attempts.

Jonah Bride, the second best hitter on the team (.306) has accounted 6 of 27 bunts, twice the expected amount if you assumed the bunts were spread evenly throughout the order (9/27 = 3). Three of Bride’s bunts have been successful.

True to his word, Chad Holbrook has not bunted the 3rd or 4th place batter at all this season. He has, however, bunted the 1st and 2nd place batters a total 15 times.

So there you have it. It will be interesting to see how these numbers compare to the second half numbers considering our level of competition will have greatly increased. More than anything, I see this as a starting point for future discussions. If my attention span endures I’d like record Carolina’s bunting stats well into the future. I think it would be interesting to see how our success varies over the years. And I’d really like to be able to compare our bunting statistics with the rest of the SEC, but I just don’t have that kind of time.

 

Top 6 BAV. w/ At Least 50 ABs Batting Average Bunts Successful Bunts
LT Tolbert 0.324 2 1
Jonah Bride 0.306 6 3
Chris Cullen 0.303 1 0
Jacob Olson 0.298 0 n/a
Matt Williams 0.278 1 1
Alex Destino 0.277 0 n/a
Lineup Position No. of Bunts Successful Bunts
1 9 3
2 6 3
3 0 n/a
4 0 n/a
5 2 0
6 2 1
7 0 n/a
8 4 2
9 4 2
Inning No. of Bunts
1 0
2 1
3 2
4 2
5 4
6 4
7 6
8 4
9 2
10 2
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TRC Unleashed Episode 95 – We’re in the FINAL FOUR

TRC Unleashed returns to discuss the Gamecocks’ upcoming appearance in the Final Four.  Among other things the triumvirate ponders:

  • Is this the greatest accomplishment in South Carolina sports history?
  • Will a loss either Saturday or Monday really be disappointing, or is this all gravy?
  • What does this mean for the program short and long-term?
  • Fighting 25 duck-sized Frank Martin’s would be terrifying.

Oh y’all this is so much fun. Join us for the ride won’t you.

You can stream the episode by clicking the logo below. Or you can listen through iTunes, and enjoy!

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Gamecocks’ NCAA Futility Washed Away in an Instant

I started watching college basketball when I was seven years old. The first game I can remember was the 1977 NCAA final between North Carolina and Marquette, and I was immediately hooked. It wasn’t March Madness back then, but it wasn’t long after that the moniker took hold.

There seemed to be something magical every year. 1979, Magic beat Bird. 1982, Jordan, a freshman, finally gave Dean Smith a title. 1983, Lorenzo Charles dunked Dereck Whittenburg’s miss. 1985, Villanova plays a perfect game against Georgetown. 1987, Keith Smart’s cold-blooded jumper. 1988, Danny Manning carries undermanned Kansas.

As a child of the 80’s, and a huge sports fan, these games shaped me, and are the reason the NCAA Tournament remains my favorite sporting event. It rarely, if ever, disappoints.

But there has always been something missing – my alma mater.

I didn’t become a South Carolina fan until my freshman year in 1987, but that was still well past USC basketball’s “glory days” during the late 60s and early 70s. I attended games at the old, sterile concrete jungle we called Carolina Coliseum. Back in those days we were an independent in football, but played in the Metro Conference in basketball. That’s right, the Metro Conference.

Our home slate included games against the likes of Florida State, Memphis State, Cincinnati and Virginia Tech. There was better fan support than the team warranted most games, but since you’re more than likely a Gamecock fan reading this that shouldn’t come as a surprise. We had a blast at those games, and we’d get in line early every week when student tickets were distributed.

Some really nice players came through when I was in school, including JoJo English, Joe Rhett, Barry Manning, John Hudson, Terry Dozier and Jamie Watson. We were never really bad, but we were never really good either. We had just enough to give good teams a run for their money, and occasionally not enough to prevent bad losses to inferior teams.

We made the tournament in 1989 and were ousted in the first round by NC State. We then wandered the desert for eight years until the remarkable breakthrough season of 1996-97. We won the SEC title outright and earned a #2 seed in our region. I thought, finally, I get to see MY team make a run in the Big Dance.

Flop.

Then 1997-98 was almost as good. We earned another high seed, #3, and surely we wouldn’t blow this opportu…

Flop.

Six years later we squeezed into the tournament as a #10 seed and were promptly ousted by Memphis.

That was it. Forty-four years without a win in the NCAA Tournament. Only four tournament appearances for me personally as a fan. Two historical faceplants out of those four appearances.

This was Gamecock basketball.

Then two weeks ago, after 13 long years, we secured another one of those elusive bids. We earned a #7 seed in the East Regional, along with defending national champion Villanova and perennial power Duke. We didn’t exactly storm into the tournament, having lost six of our last nine games. Still, the excitement of that bid brought a renewed optimism among the faithful that we would be able to beat Marquette and get the NCAA monkey off our back. We weren’t exactly sure how we were going to do it, but we decided to believe.

As it turns out, we did it the same way we thrashed teams like Michigan and Syracuse in December – suffocating defense. After the first 10 minutes of shaking off nerves, the Gamecocks were pressuring, rotating and flying to the ball in a manner we hadn’t seen in several weeks. They pulled away in the last six minutes to end that blasted tourney drought.

“Good enough for me,” I thought. “This tournament is already a success. With Duke looming, anything more than just this is gravy.” Thank God our team didn’t think that way.

The Blue Devils entered the NCAAs as a favorite after playing their best basketball of the season and winning the ACC tournament championship. The stage was overwhelming early for USC as Duke built a 10-point lead, and carried a 7-point lead into the half. After halftime, we saw what might have been the best 20 minutes of Carolina basketball in my lifetime.

The Gamecocks scored a record 65 points in the second half, the most ever scored against a Mike Krzyzewski team. It was a stunning upset, and is still the upset of the tournament. South Carolina just doesn’t beat a team like Duke in the NCAA Tournament. Hell, until Marquette they quite simply didn’t beat ANYBODY in the NCAA Tournament. After all those years, we were finally part of the Madness. On the good side.

Baylor? Baylor had no chance in the Sweet Sixteen. The Gamecocks mauled the Bears from the get-go, continuing to steamroll over anything in their way. I couldn’t believe this was my team. Our team. Now the national darling of March.

Yesterday, against a familiar and formidable foe, I was finally greedy. I didn’t think for a minute it would be all right to lose to Florida. My only thought was how heartbreaking it would be to get this close – THIS CLOSE – and not make it to the Final Four. I don’t really know how to gauge levels of nervousness, but I’m guessing on a scale of 1 to 10 I was about a 27 for two hours. I was dying as the Gators were draining threes in the first half. Contested, uncontested, banked, it didn’t matter, they were on fire.

I told my son at the half things would even out. Teams that on average shoot 35% from behind the arc don’t typically shoot 58% for an entire game. They’d stop falling, and if they didn’t, you just tip your cap. I said it with confidence, but I’m not sure I believed it.

It was obvious early in the second half the Gamecocks had decided to stop playing around. They were back to being hellhounds on defense. Shots were falling. That second half intensity overwhelmed Florida down the stretch, and they went 0-14 on three-pointers. Only for a brief moment, on a USC turnover and Chris Chiozza layup, did I think it might be slipping away.

When Maik Kotsar drilled a 10-footer with two minutes left – the shot of the game – I started to think it might be coming true. We tried to make it interesting, missing a few free throws down the stretch. But when Chiozza was stripped by PJ Dozier in the final seconds, and Duane Notice slammed home the last points to send South Carolina to the Final Four, all those years of futility and frustration were washed away.

My team, our team, South Carolina, was in the Final Four.

I’m not saying anything here any of you haven’t already thought or said. I don’t have any special words to use to describe what we’ve witnessed. It’s been unbelievable, unreal, surreal, special, spectacular, and on and on. I’ve consumed every article, watched every highlight, video and GIF. I don’t know if a team has ever made me as proud as this Gamecock basketball team. It’s all been so unexpected.

The man responsible is Frank Martin. He wanted out of Kansas State so badly that five years ago he decided to take over a program mired in sub-mediocrity for decades. He had a plan, he implemented his plan, and he asked us to be patient. It hasn’t been easy. When he was suspended a few years ago for an outburst at Duane Notice on the bench, I thought maybe we had seen the last of him. He wasn’t winning, and his brash personality wasn’t sitting well with everyone. But he returned, and as time went by you saw how much his players adored him and how hard they played for him and our university.

I genuinely believe to Frank Martin this journey isn’t about Frank Martin. He cares about the players he coaches like they’re his own family, and he insists they appreciate our university and represent us with respect. He preaches about life, and teaches life lessons through basketball. His players love him and would run through a wall for him. As a matter of fact they’ve been running through walls for him the last two weeks.

On the player side, no one at the University of South Carolina should ever wear the number 0 on a basketball court again. Sindarius Thornwell, like his team, has exceeded expectations beyond our wildest dreams. At the beginning of the year he was maybe a top 10 player in South Carolina history. After an SEC Player of the Year regular season he may have moved near the top 5. After the last two weeks the only names you can put in the same sentence with him are Roche and English. Martin said he likes players with some “dog” in them. Thornwell epitomizes this, guarding guys four and five inches taller than him on the defensive side, then being equally adept at knocking down threes or banging in the paint for an and-1 on offense. He is quite simply a legend.

The supporting cast, absent many nights during the regular season, has been incredible during this run. I could write a paragraph each about Silva, Felder, Kotsar, Notice and the rest of the bench and their contributions. Every night someone else has stepped up their game in a supporting role. The NCAA Tournament has a way of making players elevate their game to meet the moment. Our guys have done that.

Finally, I have to say how proud I am of our fans. New York became Gamecock Central (h/t to Gamecock Central) and it was so much fun to watch you guys take it over. We’ve engaged with many of you over social media and it’s been a blast. It’s definitely great to be a Gamecock.

So let me close this out before it becomes one big “I love you man”.

Regarding the Final Four, if this team didn’t give one more ounce to us fans they’ve still given more than enough. But from what I’ve seen not giving their best is not an option for any single guy on that squad. I expect to see the hellhounds in full force against Gonzaga.

No matter the outcome, this has been one great ride. And more than I ever could have expected.

Go Cocks.

 

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TRC Unleashed Episode 94 – It’s The Sweet One

What can make TRC Unleashed come out of hibernation? Why an improbable run in the NCAA Tournament, that’s what. Connor Tapp of 247Sports joins Buck and the Gman (hey, where Tbone at?) to discuss:

  • The nice win over Marquette
  • The unbelievable win over Duke
  • Where the win over Duke ranks in USC hoops history
  • The legacy of Sindarius Thornwell
  • How much we love Frank Martin
  • And spring football!

Join us for all this and more on the return of TRC-U. Click to listen:

Streaming

Or in iTunes.

iTunes Podcast

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The Gamecock Bunt Book – Week of 2/20-2/27

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Is bunting a good thing? When is the right time to sacrifice? Or bunt for a hit? How about a good old-fashioned squeeze? There has been much debate over the years over the old-school approach taken by Gamecock skippers Ray Tanner and Chad Holbrook in regards to bunting. (Read: they LOVE the bunt.) But how often does it really work, and when is it not a good strategy?

This season, TRC will be the vessel for some deep-diving analysis from @chickenhoops, @featherdwarrior, and the team over at @DidtheBuntWork. The mission will be to put together some hard analytics to determine how effective the Gamecock bunt game is in 2017. Please enjoy this first installment from @chickenhoops.

Hi, you might remember me from such features as yelling about punting and Frank Martin’s lineups.  Today, we’re here to talk about the third thing that drives me crazy – Chad Holbrook’s bunting.

I’m not exactly new to this topic, but with the help of others at @DidtheBuntWork, I’ll spend this year for the first time taking a systemic approach to Chad Holbrook’s fetish.

Let’s talk about the three bunts this week!

Feb. 23 – Kansas State

Inning: Bottom 6th

Score: 6-5 KSU

Batter: Danny Blair

Lineup: 1st

Runners on: none

Outs: 0

Did it work? No

Expected runs added/lost: No change

Actual runs added/lost: -0.31

This is a bunt where I take no issue – Danny Blair attempted to bunt for a hit and it didn’t work.  My general rule here is that this should be a player-called decision, but I’m not going to fault either Holbrook or Blair for trying.

Feb. 24 – Wright State

Inning: Bottom 5th

Score: 3-3 tied

Batter: Danny Blair

Lineup: 1st

Runners on: 2nd

Outs: 0

Did it work? Not even a little bit – Wright State threw the runner out at 3rd.

Expected runs added/lost: -0.25 (anticipated one out, runner on 3rd)

Expected chance of scoring once: +3% (70% to 73%)

Actual runs added/lost: -0.76

Actual chance of scoring once: 38%

Now this is the type of Holbrook bunt that we’ve come to know and love.  In the fifth inning of a tie game, Chad decides to lower our total runs expected by a quarter of a run in exchange for a piddling three-percent chance of scoring.  He ends up being right, one run would be enough to win the game, but that’s a pretty massive bet with 12 outs to go.

Of course, Blair can’t get it down and the runner is nailed.  Here’s why it matters to little that there’s not much upside to these bunts – because look at the massive downside.  Blair’s bunt doesn’t work, and now the Gamecocks go from slightly more likely to scoring once (but less likely to score more than once) to unlikely to score at all and unlikely to score much.  No reward, all risk!

Feb. 25 – Wright State

Inning: Bottom 6th

Score: 4-0 USC

Batter: Danny Blair

Lineup: 9th

Runners on: 2nd and 3rd

Outs: 1

Did it work? Yes!

Expected runs added/lost: -0.24 (anticipated one run in, runner at 2nd, one out)

Actual runs added/lost: +0.73 (one run in, runners at 1st and 2nd, no outs) 2.06 to 2.79

Actual chance of scoring once: 38%

This is the flip side of the coin above – sometimes a team can’t make a play and a bunt turns good.  Here, the bunt works as well as possible – the run gets in and both runners are safe.  That increases the Gamecocks’ expected runs in this inning from 2.06 to 2.79 runs.  Of course, Carolina would go on to score a 6-spot in this inning, effectively putting the game away.

We’ll try to catch up with the bunts we missed earlier in the season, but for this week’s games alone, here’s how Chad’s bunting turned out – let’s follow along this season as we finally take our NEVER BUNT thesis and test it over the course of an entire year.

Season-to-date (only including KSU and WSU series)

Expected runs gained/lost: 0.49 runs lost

Actual runs gained/lost: 0.34 runs lost

 

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