USC Basketball, The Next Season

With Gamecock fans fresh off the rivalry redemption following the 31-28 football victory over intrastate rival, Clemson, the USC faithful can now wait on the holiday bowl game, and then take their cheers indoors for a young team headed for an exciting basketball season.

The so-called experts have the Gamecocks basketball team finishing last in the SEC East, behind Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Georgia, respectfully. The major reason for such low expectations is obvious: a young, inexperienced squad, created by the loss of Renaldo Balkman, Tarence Kinsey and Rocky Trice.

Before we sell this team short on paper, lets look at the season in three stages: non-conference games, conference road games and conference home games. After that, we'll let you predict the post season outcome. USC has 29 regular season games, 17 at home (9 non-conference, 8 SEC), 12 road games (4 non-conference, 8 SEC). Currently 4-1, with the lone loss to UC-Irvine, the Gamecocks resumed play Monday night against The Citadel in Charleston, the third of four non-conference road games, with only a trip to Baylor University in Texas as the final road game outside of conference. All other games will be played in familiar territory for the upperclassmen and coaches.

What does this all mean? USC won easily against the Citadel, moving the Cocks to 4-1 going into the Saturday home stand against, you guessed it, Clemson. The game should be very competitive and USC will have its work cut out for them as the Clemson Tigers will come to town with an unblemished 8-0 record, bringing a very balanced inside-outside athletic floor attack. This third home game, non-conference stand will determine how effective the home court advantage can be for the gamecocks this year. With the football bragging rights now in Columbia, Coach Dave Odom will be expecting a near capacity crowd on Saturday to remind the basketball world that this is the Cockpit, this will be the sixth man that the young Gamecocks will need to survive a very challenging schedule that will follow the Clemson game.

The next week will be full of intrastate novelty with former Gamecock player Bobby Cremins making his return to Columbia as the Head Coach of College of Charleston. The public interest in this one should bring a nice crowd to support Tre' Kelly, Brandon Wallace and company. Cremins, also known as former USC coach for a day, will bring a very well prepared team into the Colonial Center. If USC generates a home stand that resembles the second half play against Lipscomb, this could supply the necessary confidence for the players to travel to Texas and win against a Baylor squad that is rebuilding from a tragic period in 2003, and just resuming non-conference competition after NCAA and Big12 sanctions. Baylor's guard oriented offense should not be strong enough to carry them to victory against the Cocks. The Gamecocks appear set to return home no worst than 6-2 going into exams.

Following the 11 day layoff, the Gamecocks take the floor again against the traditionally fundamental Princeton Tigers. This team is a little younger than most Princeton teams, but should be a good test for the improving Gamecocks and a great preparation for the 5-game home stretch that will end with No.10 Kansas on national TV, January 7th. A win against Princeton should give the Cocks the confidence to play UNC-Asheville, Jacksonville and Western Carolina, strong in preparation for the big Kansas contest that concludes the non-conference schedule. At that stage of the season, expect the Gamecocks to enter the SEC schedule 11-2 or 10-3.

The recent consistency of Brandis Raley-Ross in the backcourt with Kelly, and solid overdue performances from Senior Brandon Wallace and red-shirt Freshman Dominique Archie, provide the foundation for a team to continue to develop playmakers and role players to be a competitive team in the SEC East. This team has the opportunity to steal a few road games, and then stick a winning home record in the SEC standings. But it will take continued growth by this scrappy young team. They have the coaching, a respectable to good backcourt, the basketball IQ and the potential of an added post presence from a second semester enrollment of Chad Gray to make it happen.

For a last place prediction, USC will have to lose 10 to 12 conference games. Expect this team to over-achieve in the eyes of the experts and post a 10-6 conference record. The Gamecocks open the SEC at Georgia, returning home for a 2-game stand against Florida, currently ranked No.1, which just lost in overtime against future USC opponent, Kansas.

The national and regional experts have overrated the USC Eastern division opponents, and underrated the talent of the oft-referenced young Odom squad. Only Florida, with its returning national championship unit, looks to be an extremely imposing team against the Gamecock lineup. Solid in every position, the Cocks will have to repeat one of last year's perfect performances just to stay close to this group. What will make this possible are the respective talents of USC's assistant coaches. The combination of Barry Sanderson's scouting, Rick Duckett's defensive schemes and Ken Potosnak's player motivation are a potent combination. Carolina has the chance to open with a 2-1 start with a strong road performance in Athens, growth from the Florida battle, and an upset of Kentucky with solid back court performances in transition and perimeter shooting at home, aided by a near capacity crowd, creating a permanent sixth man that evening.

If the team remains healthy and does not collapse on the road, victories should come in reasonable rotation, offering a 4-4 road mark and 6-2 home record to close the regular season. The SEC tournament under Odom has rendered some exciting runs at the championship, making post-season participation somewhere an easy selection for the NCAA committees.

The keys to success for this team: Kelly, Raley-Ross and Wallace must stay healthy to play 30+ minutes per game; Bryce Sheldon needs to find his range permanently; Dwayne Day must establish a non-destructive offensive role; Archie has to continue to commit to playing balanced and physical every night; another post player must evolve for post physicality and rebounding; and the fans need to fill the seats around the arena to generate the energy from which this team will feed during this growth season. The team roster, as projected by the SEC schedule, has the potential to meet these objectives.

In 1997, an Eddie Fogler coached team won the SEC title without an imposing post player, out-hustling teams to the end of each game. That team proved that a strong guard-oriented team, constant transition pressure, aggressive perimeter defense, good support work in the post and just plain hustle can equate to a successful season. While this team may not be ready to win the SEC title, they have the potential to compete with most of the teams in the SEC.

Expect this team to shock the experts and post another 20-win season. It won't be pretty, but a "work in progress" has its beauty when it results in WINS.

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