With two SEC blowout losses to Georgia and Florida, along with a lopsided nationally televised loss to physically superior Kansas, there are serious questions if this year's South Carolina squad can compete in the SEC. Will this be a year of youth development, character building, losing-streaks, low fan attendance, "boo birds" and press conference excuses? Or will this team find seven players who have too much pride to post one of the potentially worst records in recent USC Men's Basketball history?
South Carolina (10-5, 0-2) has lost three consecutive games by a total of 74 points, scoring only 9 points in the first 17:14 during the second half of the most recent setback by the Gators. Player efforts appeared to be lacking enthusiasm to challenge the defending national champions. It did not seem to matter that this was the Gamecock's home court, or that the half started with USC trailing by only 8 points, thanks to the single-handed efforts of Tre Kelley, who scored 20 of the Gamecocks 33 first half points. As point guard, Kelly was the only player displaying fearlessness to enter the paint and attack the Gators at the glass.
One of the results of this physicality bankruptcy was there were few fouls made by the Florida players, who posted only 4 personal fouls in the first half. Florida's aggressive Joakim Noah recorded his first foul with just over 10 minutes to play in the second half, and by then the game was well decided, with only the final score a mystery. USC had 47 shot attempts and Kelly was responsible for 22 of those. The Gamecocks shot 20% from the field in the second half on 5 of 25 shooting. Florida shot 67% in the first half and 62% in the second half, on 34 of 53 shooting. Not to mention the "Lee Humphrey shooting clinic," when the talented Gator shot 10-12 with 7 of 8 of those shots being made from beyond the 3-point stripe.
What does all this mean? USC, now the last place team in the conference, could find it difficult to play against any team in the conference with this type of effort. The effort itself was created by an aggressive Gator defense in the second half, which worked extremely hard to deny the ball as often as possible from reaching Kelley, forcing the Gamecocks to find another scorer - something that has been extremely inconsistent all season. All teams in the SEC apply fast and physical pressure, something that the Gamecocks have not been able to accomplish for any sustained period without the ball in Kelley's hand. Scouting reports will read the same, until someone is given the opportunity or takes the initiative to step up and make teams pay for adjusting to such a lopsided defensive scheme.
Then there is the missing pride, which is most often defined in DEFENSE. Allowing 70, 80 and 84 points respectively in the most recent losses says that the willingness to treat the game with urgency - generally called HUSTLE - is missing, and the slow rotations, which eliminates the concept of team defense, is a growing ailment of a team that must find heart, character, athleticism, physicality and scoring in the next few hours to meet the pressure of a Tubby Smith-coached Kentucky team that will be hungry to get a solid win, as they are trying to regain national recognition.
Another lopsided loss could cause this ill competitive epidemic to start to resonate deep into the core of this basketball unit, and only major surgery and a new season will cure the condition. So what is the immediate treatment? Brandon Wallace must play above the rim and allow his body to bang with the competition. Wallace must pick up his scoring, but he must also pick up his defense. Dominique Archie has to attack the glass offensively, with and without the ball, always trying to create passing lane to Tre and Brandon to slide their unselfish passes. Then Archie has to catch it clean and finish. This will begin to make defenses play the unit honestly.
Bryce Sheldon is a very good shooter, so what is the problem? The problem is he does not move with the previously-mentioned urgency. Sheldon must work harder to get open. The defender will follow him all around the court and will deny the pass as long as he is not forced into some of the available screens often set for him. Without creating separation, the 3-ball will not be available, and Sheldon becomes an invaluable player.
Size for this team is a factor, but it is not the first time for the two-time NIT champions. Dwayne Day must take a few pages out of the book of Tarence Kinsey and become a rebounding guard who is willing to attack the glass to create foul shot opportunities and to increase foul creations to bench opposing starters, causing opponent depth be a factor from time to time.
Brandis Raley-Ross must be allowed to just play, make mistakes and mature. Yes, this is the year of "Trial by Fire." Raley-Ross has a very good open floor game, is still learning to play the Division 1 half court game, but the season has started, the game is on and the cards are dealt. The South Carolina Gamecocks must play the hand they have, but play it with all they've got. A coach cannot coach speed, but he can require hustle. Evaldus Baniulis has a game that can provide key plays, timely shots and the occasional needed rebound, but when it's not going his way, he must run as hard as he can in transition and be a part of each play on each end of the floor. Baniulis will be a great help if the coaching staff can make him hustle and recognize that the college game will never slow down to his pace; he must increase his energy and movement.
This team is short of needed sized personnel, injured by the loss of Ousmane Konate, who could at least give a push here and there. But it is what it is, so enter Chad Gray. Chad, go get rebounds. Be the Gamecock's Dennis Rodman. Get needed second shots.
Gray needs to get fouled down low to get to the line and start feeling the sense of scoring in the college game. A commitment to the glass will create shots, and while running the floor, Tre will get the ball in the position to score. Go strong with each shot and things will start to come together.
Kelley should be applauded for slapping his team in the media, recently, for their pitiful display over the last three games, capped by an all-but-quit attitude that could be witnessed even by Stevie Wonder during the second half of the Florida contest. Kelley has tried to carry this team, teach and lead by example, but they just don't seem to understand. Hopefully, the embarrassment, the historical low point, Kelley's comments and a frustrated coaching staff can wake up the USC basketball players and convince them to reach down and find the fiber that makes a winner. Dive on the floor, take charges, rotate while the pass is in flight, come hard off screens, box out, elevate hard to the glass, stay on the line and make free throws.
This season is not over and the SEC is full of good teams. USC can be one of them, but they must want it. The next three ball games will decide if this collection of players can become a team and compete, or will the fans have to wait until next year, when the home grown Young Guns come out to play.
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