South Carolina has thrived, struggled, run, scrapped, pressured and fought their way to a seemingly disappointing 12-8 record following the upset of the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats. The regular season is now two-thirds complete with 10 games remaining before the SEC Tournament.
Five of the remaining games are at the Colonial Life Arena, which has quickly become an exciting place to see basketball if you're a Gamecock fan and a hostile place for visiting teams with its sixth man effect, The Garnet Army. Under second year Head Coach Darrin Horn, South Carolina has an 85% winning percentage at home.
The season obviously started with the hopes of a NCAA bid, with the addition of newcomers with various support skills to improve on a team that just missed a chance to play in the NCAA the previous season. But a season ending injury to the 6'7" star forward Dominique Archie and the dismissal of starting 6'7" forward Mike Holmes, placed a cloud of doubt over the season.
Adding insult to injury, the adjusting Gamecocks squad lost a shocker to the little regarded Wofford Terriers and the season and its' goals seemed destined for failure and disappointment.
Local and national analysts began writing South Carolina out of the SEC eastern division race, where they were co-champions the previous season. After opening with wins over Auburn and LSU, considered to be non-contenders, the Cocks dropped contests against Vanderbilt and Ole Miss (16-4), and then a heart-breaker to Florida.
The Florida loss may prove to be a positive and valuable loss. Devan Downey leading the team and the SEC in scoring (in SEC Play) has emerged as the nucleus of danger to opponents and the spark that starts a fire in the Horn defensive and offensive schemes.
The recent upset of the Wildcats followed the Gator loss and was accomplished with increased effort. Horn and his coaching staff, along with Downey, have sold effort and poise to a basically young unit that have been forced to grow into vital roles early and effectively.
So the result is a 12-8, 3-3 SEC season with 10 conference games remaining; 5 at home against Georgia (9-9), Florida (15-5), Tennessee (15-4), Mississippi State (15-5) and Alabama (13-7); three tough games at Tennessee, Kentucky (19-1) and Vanderbilt (16-3); and two other road match-ups, that are favorable to the Gamecocks when they're playing their best, at Georgia and Arkansas (9-11).
The formula to get in would look something like this: The current 3-3 SEC record plus 5 wins at home and two wins on the road equals 10-6 in the SEC for the regular season (19-11 overall). Add one to two wins minimum in the SEC tournament for the 20-win season with a win over No. 1 on the resume and an NCAA bid is highly probable. Add any additional road wins to the formula and it becomes a lock.
Following the loss to Florida, South Carolina fell to 88 in the RPI, but the Kentucky win followed by a victory over Georgia should move the Cocks to the high 70's and closer to the field of 64.
The real emphasis is for the Gamecocks to protect home court for the remainder of the season, take at least two, maybe even three on the road, win a tournament game and let the NCAA bid talk begin.
Continue the discussions with Player of the Year and Coach of the Year honors. This is the road map to March Madness, now let's play it out one game at a time.
The first goal? Beat Georgia and the journey begins.
A former basketball player and coach with over a decade of national experience, who later founded player development programs before expanding his knowledge and experiences to media services and outlets, Duane "The Shot Doctor" Everett can be heard every weekday in Columbia as a host and analyst on ESPN Radio Columbia's "The Zone" on 93.1 FM from 3-6 p.m.
Other entries such as this one can be found on Everett's blog, "The Shot Doctor".
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