Gamecocks Aim For Different Postseason

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — One championship in the National Invitation Tournament, in 2004, served the South Carolina Gamecocks just fine.

That they repeated last season, becoming the first school since St. John's in 1943 and 1944 to do so, gives Dave Odom's team a boost of confidence heading into this season to be sure.

But the Gamecocks' coach adamantly states he'd be disappointed with a third straight April weekend at New York City's Madison Square Garden.

"Well, you want to make the NCAA Tournament," Odom said. "You never want to just be happy to be in that other tournament. No one wants to compromise."

Still, the Gamecocks admit that the two postseason runs have set up a chance for a special season with seniors Tre' Kelley, Bryce Sheldon and Brandon Wallace leading the way.

"Those (three) kids will look death in the eye and not blink," Odom said. "They're not afraid of anything. And that's what you need in a league like this."

South Carolina entered last season's Southeastern Conference Tournament with a 15-14 record. Even a return to the NIT was in question at that point.

But the Gamecocks reeled off wins over Mississippi State, Tennessee and Kentucky. Only a two-point loss to eventual national champion Florida kept South Carolina from qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.

The Gamecocks then stormed to their second straight NIT title, defeating Western Kentucky, Florida State and Cincinnati to advance to New York. South Carolina toppled Louisville by 15 in the semifinal and Michigan by 12 in the final.

"It's not the championship that gives you the confidence," Odom said. "It's the teams you beat along the way that gives you confidence."

For Kelley, who experienced the NCAA Tournament as a freshman, there's no doubt where he'd like to end up come March. Getting back to the NCAA Tournament should be difficult considering the tough annual challenge presented by the SEC East, but Kelley is hopeful.

"It was so fun," Kelley said. "I just want to get back there. We don't want to even have a chance at winning a third in a row."

Chemistry Exam

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings didn't mince words on Thursday when describing the pitfalls of his previous two Commodore teams.

"We should've done a lot better, maybe even gotten to the NCAA Tournament," Stallings said.

Standing in the way, though, were internal problems. Players squabbled. They complained. They bickered. They concentrated on individual accomplishments.

Those problems all led to sub-.500 records. But this season brought a renewed effort to bond, something Stallings said his coaching staff needed to say little about.

"They've self-imposed a lot of the things in the offseason that have brought them closer together," Stallings said. "It wasn't a team-wide issue last year. They realize that it was confined to a few areas. But still, it was very important for these guys to get closer."

An ‘A' For Absent

Apparently, the Southeastern Conference basketball media doesn't think too much of Arkansas this year. At least, they don't think enough of the Razorbacks and Lady'Backs to put any of either team's players on the preseason All-SEC teams.

It was a shutout for both the Arkansas men's and women's teams as the 2007 SEC Basketball Media Days Preaseason teams were announced. The SEC Coaches poll did have two Arkansas players on their teams, with both Darian Townes and Sarah Pfeifer chosen to the all-SEC second teams, respectively.

Movin' On Up

Sure, everyone knows about the teams like LSU, Florida and Kentucky, especially after last year's NCAA Tournament. But as far as Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury is concerned, there's much more talent on the men's side of the league than just the big dogs at the top.

"Auburn returns their whole team, Ole Miss returns their whole team, Georgia is going to have a very good team," Stansbury said. "I'm telling you guys, in our league, you better be ready to play every night because everybody has a chance to beat everybody on any given night."

Another 10-Spot

For the second time in the last three years, the Arkansas Lady Razorbacks have been picked to finish 10th in the SEC overall race in the media's preseason poll. Last year, Arkansas was predicited to finish in the tie for 10th along with Mississippi State, and in 2004 the Lady'Backs were also picked to finish 10th.

The only time in the past four years Arkansas wasn't picked 10th? In 2005, when the Lady'Backs moved up one spot in the preseason polls and were put in the ninth position.

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