Dave Odom's South Carolina Gamecocks take on Memphis today in first round action of the NCAA Tournament. This is a winnable game for SC, as other teams in other brackets proved yesterday ...
The biggest upset on Day One of the Tournament happened to a fellow SEC member, as 6th seed Florida was upset by 12th seed Manhatten. Other upsets included 10th seed Dayton over 7th seed Depaul, and 10th seed Nevada over 7th seed Michigan State.
Will 10th seed South Carolina upset 7th seed Memphis today? It could happen. It happened last year to the Memphis Tigers when they were upset in the first round as a 7th seed by then 10th seed Arizona State. They do not want history to repeat itself.
The Memphis Tigers will have a bit of a homecourt advantage as their fans travel very well and within close proximity to the Kansas City arena. However, South Carolina has already played, and won in Kemper Arena ... in winning the Guardian's Classic earlier this season. Also, when noting the upsets above, the typical NCAA Tournament crowds all cheered for the underdogs in neutral games. This might play in the Gamecocks' favor if the game were close heading down to the wire.
More likely is it that whichever team makes the fewest mistakes, plays the best defense and hits their open shots will win. The crowd factor should not play into this game unless it is a nailbiter at the end and the neutral fans outweight the Memphis advantage.
These two teams are fairly evenly matched from a size and experience perspective. South Carolina will likely start two seniors in Kerbrell Brown and Michael Boynton. A JuCo transfer in Josh Gonner. A junior in Carlos Powell and either sophomore Tarence Kinsey or freshman Ronaldo Balkman. Balkman might be just the medicine to counter a certain Memphis super frosh, especially considering Kinsey's gimpy knee.
The Tigers will counter with a senior point guard by the name of Antonio Burks, and he is very good. Sean Banks (18 points, 6.7 rebounds per game) is their other legitimate star, a freshman forward (All-SEC Freshman Balkman's opposite) that wears #32 - he will be one to watch as he was named the C-USA Newcomer of the Year. Junior Antony Rice will likely start at the other guard for Memphis. Freshman Ivan Lopez is slated to start for the Tigers at forward, but sophomore Rodney Carney could get the nod there as well. And either Arthur Barclay, a much heralded junior center, or Modibo Diarra will go in the middle.
It is uncanny how evenly matched in terms of size these two teams are. Player by player, position by position, they are almost a mirror image of one another - just as they are in terms of age and experience. Furthermore, both of these teams are known for their defense. Each led its conference in many defensive catagories during the regular season.
The similarities do not stop there. Both teams live and die by the 3-pointers. Dave Odom says this is the best 3-point shooting team the Gamecocks have faced this season. John Calipari has similar things to say about the Gamecocks.
Speaking of coaches, these are two head coaches with very similar histories and winning percentages. And both received post season accolades; Odom was named the SEC Coach of the Year by his peers and Calipari was named the NABC District 7 Coach of the Year by the Natonal Basketball Coaches Association.
Both teams will go a legitimate seven or eight deep including their benches - and this may play big into today's game. South Carolina will need quality minutes from players such as Tre Kelly and Brandon Wallace if they hope to pull off the upset. And remember, it was two years ago that an unknown bench-player came in to beat South Carolina in the NIT Championship Game in NY City. Memphis has its fair share of talent on their bench as well - who it might be, you never know until after the tip-off.
As previously mentioned Memphis lost in the first round to underdog Arizona State (at Oklahoma State) last season - and they are intent on not allowing that to happen again. They bring only three new faces into this game that were not on the team that participated in last season's Big Dance - a definite advantage for the Tigers. Prior to last year's game, Memphis had a six year run in which they failed to receive a Big Dance Bid. The year before last, Memphis beat the Gamecocks in the NIT Championship game.
South Carolina on the other hand will be making its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in six years - this year. And the Gamecocks have not won a NCAA tourney game since 1973 ... the same year then Memphis State lost to UCLA in the National Championship game. But you can bet the Gamecocks who were on that team that played Memphis in NY, will use that experience in today's game.
Yet, even with all of the apparent advantages Memphis may have in this game, the bottom line is it is too even to call. If South Carolina can keep their guards, Boynton and Gonner out of foul trouble, and if the Gamecocks win the rebounding battle and hit their open threes off the picks - then USC has an excellent shot at winning this game.
Oh, and one last little thing - this about a certain 'curse.'
Memphis fans consider themselves and their team jinxed when playing in Kansas City. The Tigers have a 2-5 record at Kemper Arena. In 1983, the Tigers lost to Houston in the Sweet 16. In 1992, the Tigers lost to Cincinnati in the Elite Eight. And in 1995, Memphis lost to Arkansas in the Sweet 16.
But for beat writers covering this game they had a few questions about South Carolina's own problems in first round NCAA Tournament Games.
"There's no Chicken Curse here," Dave Odom replied. "I don't want to hear any of that here."
Still, South Carolina's first round woes includes some noteable upsets. In 1997, the Gamecocks won the regular-season SEC title and entered with a No. 2 seed, but fell 78-65 in the first round to No. 15 seed Coppin State - one of just four such upsets since the tournament expanded to 16 seeds in 1985. The following season, the third-seeded Gamecocks were upset 62-61 by 14th seed Richmond.
Michael Boynton is quick to put that talk to rest.
"(The losing streak) has nothing to do with this team," said point guard Boynton. "You don't play against history, you don't play against legacy, you just play basketball."
The similarities between these two teams are eerie ... and fun.
South Carolina is a 2 to 2.5 point underdog according to the bookies in Vegas. The .5 hook in this line indicates the delima this game poses even for the oddsmakers. The o/u is 136.
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