I checked Twitter after I left church yesterday to find that most “bracketologists” were leaving South Carolina out of the 2016 NCAA Tournament. This came one sleep cycle after they were still in, probably as a 10 seed, and after they had lost their quarterfinal game in the SEC Tournament against Georgia. And that came one sleep cycle after they were solidly in, not even relegated to the “last four in” column.
As the day progressed I resigned myself to the fact they were not going to make it. I still had a glimmer of hope, but that inner Gamecock defense mechanism kicked in to help dull the inevitable pain of another spring – this makes 12 in a row – without my team in the Big Dance.
It made sense after all. They lost to an awful Missouri team. They lost to a bad Mississippi State team. An average-at-best Georgia team beat them three times. Their out of conference schedule sucked even though they won every one of those games. The prosecution had a pretty good case built as to why a 24-win power five conference team shouldn’t make it.
The first bad omen came before the awful CBS Selection Show (more on that later) – Frank Martin and the team were not attending a Gamecock watch party, they were watching privately. As he stated later, he received information that “things didn’t look good”. The second bad omen was the first bracket and the first 10 seed – Temple. The Owls were consistently a “last four in” or “first four out” from what I had seen, so there went one of the Gamecocks’ spots. Then…
What? We beat them, finished higher than them in conference, and they were beaten by an awful Tennessee team in the SEC Tournament.
Double what? 19-13 with some bad losses, most people didn’t even have them on the bubble.
Hold up, are we doing the NIT bracket now? This is a joke, right?
Like many of you, the anger began to swell within me. South Carolina not making the tournament for the reasons listed above is one thing, but having those three get in – two of whom we beat head to head – was not acceptable. I’m usually the last person to scream “we got screwed”, but
WE GOT SCREWED
Yes, the tough love folks are still telling me this morning “win more games” and “we have no one to blame but ourselves”. And that’s mostly right. But every bubble team or team that didn’t get as high a seed as they expected could repeat that mantra (hey, Michigan State, you want a #1 seed, then WIN MORE GAMES). The fact is we were being directly compared to other teams on the bubble that had bad losses, or maybe not enough good wins, or maybe not enough wins period. When you stack up all the data, I think there is no doubt we are one of the best 36 at-large teams in the country.
Win more games, control your own destiny and don’t leave it in the hands of the committee? Yes, of course. But when the committee ignores important things like beating the teams you were competing with for a spot in the tournament, then I think it’s fair to be at least a little pissed.
And most of us are more than a little pissed.
Frank Martin. I’m not trying to set up a straw man here because I’ve only seen one person directly pin the blame for this season’s failures on Frank Martin. But I have seen other tweets indirectly referencing such, so I want to use it as a jumping off point to talk about the job Martin has done:
If you think Frank Martin has not done a good job at South Carolina, then you are a moron.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the good job he has done. First of all, he inherited a complete disaster from Darrin Horn, then had to deal with the transfers of two of South Carolina’s best players in Anthony Gill and Damontre Harris. He filled the roster as best he could those first two seasons and limped to 14-18 and 14-20 seasons.
Last year the team stumbled out of the gate (losses to Charlotte and Akron) but closed the out of conference slate with impressive wins over Oklahoma State, Clemson and Iowa State. A 2-8 start in conference play doomed our chances at any postseason action, but two wins in the SEC Tournament gave us a glimpse into the future.
Perhaps the biggest sin the Gamecocks and Martin committed this year was creating unrealistic expectations by darting out to a 15-0 start. For most of the season an NCAA Tournament berth seemed like a foregone conclusion. But what people forgot was the core of this team was the same as the teams that finished a combined seven games under .500 over the previous three years (24 games under .500 in conference play). We were still prone to the things that dogged us those years, mainly a lack of consistent production on the offensive end. What helped us persevere more often than not were things that don’t show up in the box score, including the experience and leadership of Sindarius Thornwell and Michael Carrera.
We are a work in progress, but Frank Martin has this program trending up. I’m confident future Selection Sundays will be just as stressful as yesterday, but for different reasons – like wondering what our seeding and region will be.
Talent. Brace yourselves because some of you are not going to like this, but this is also a testament to the job Frank Martin has done – our basketball team is not very talented. Before you get bent out of shape over that statement, I think it is a compliment to Martin and every member of the team that I can say that about a team that won 24 games in a power five conference.
Look at it this way, we have two kids on our team who were highly-ranked recruits – Thornwell and P.J. Dozier. I’d say Chris Silva was probably about a half-step below those two. I’m not a big follower of basketball recruiting, but was anyone else on our roster a big “get”? Carrera busted his ass and made himself an all-SEC performer by his senior year, but not many people wanted a skinny 6’5” post player out of high school. When you look at the rest of the roster, with few exceptions, those are guys that weren’t necessarily our first choices.
I’m saying all of this as a compliment to the players and the staff. We accomplished something quite good considering the team we had to cobble together.
That being said, if Frank Martin has had a failing at USC, it has been his inability to land more high-profile recruits, and specifically a scorer. Think about if we had any combination of Danuel House, LJ Peak and Tevin Mack, or if we had Seventh Woods or Dewan Huell coming in next year. We were a finalist for all of these guys, and they all went elsewhere.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful to have the likes of Sedee Keita, Rakym Felder and Maik Kotsar coming, but none of them appear to be program changers. We need THAT GUY. You know the one. The one that can hit a step back jumper when the game is on the line. The one who can finish strong at the rim and get an and-1 at the most critical moment.
Frank does really well with the good players. I’d love to see what he could do with the great players. We just have to land a few.
NIT. I’ll be watching every minute of every game. I want to cut down the nets in NYC. I want Carrera, Chat and Mindy to go out as the winningest team in South Carolina history. But it’s still the NIT, and if there is a celebration, it will be a muted one.
CBS. You ruined it CBS. The thirty minute Selection Show was the best 30 minutes of television of the year. But you got greedy, and that abomination of a two-hour special was unfair to the players and fans alike. Not to mention it was boring and just plain bad.