Cocks look familiar

Inheriting a team that had gone 14-17 the previous season, first-year Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl blended a standout point guard (C.J. Watson), a long-range bomber (Chris Lofton), a versatile forward (Dane Bradshaw) and a blazing tempo into a 20-win season in 2005-06.

Darrin Horn must've been paying attention.

Inheriting a team that had gone 14-18 the previous season, the first-year South Carolina coach has blended a standout point guard (Devan Downey), a long-range bomber (Zam Fredrick), a versatile forward (Dominique Archie) and a blazing tempo into a 20-win season in 2008-09.

You can make a good case that Pearl discovered the formula for first-year success in the SEC four years ago. And you can make an equally good case that Horn has borrowed that formula and implemented it at Columbia. His Gamecocks look an awful lot like Pearl's 2005-06 Vols. By forcing a frantic pace, they lead the league in scoring, turnover margin and steals – three categories in which the Vols led the league four years ago.

"They do remind me a great deal of my first year at Tennessee," said Pearl, whose Vols visit the Gamecocks Thursday night with the SEC East lead at stake. "Running, pressing and speeding the game up ... (their pace) is crazy. They get after you. It's very exciting basketball to watch."

Even the individual makeup of the 2005-06 Vols and the 2008-09 Gamecocks is similar. Pearl's initial Vol team got a combined 32.5 points per game from star guards Lofton (17.2) and Watson (15.3), Horn's initial Gamecock squad is getting a combined 35.7 points per game from star guards Downey (20.2) and Fredrick (15.5).

"The combination of Downey and Fredrick is averaging 36 points. Then you look at their assists and steals and everything," Pearl noted, adding that such a veteran backcourt "is a good thing to have, and they're taking full advantage of it."

Fredrick essentially is a poor man's Lofton, ranking among the SEC's dandy dozen in 3-point percentage (35.7), 3-pointers made (50) and scoring (15.5 points per game).

Downey, meanwhile, leads the SEC in steals, ranks third in assists and third in scoring. He exhibits the same type of poise and maturity running the Gamecock offense that Watson exhibited running the Vol attack four years ago.

"That's an unbelievable advantage," Pearl said. "It is so much easier to coach basketball if you have a great point guard because your transition defense is taken care of. And, offensively, you can put the ball in his hands and get a shot, get a free throw, get a dime."

Then there's Archie, who ranks among the SEC leaders in scoring (11.3 points per game), field-goal percentage (53.0), rebounds (6.6 per game), steals (39) and blocked shots (31).

Archie's versatility makes him a modern-day version of Bradshaw, who was named captain of Sports Illustrated's "All-Glue Team" during his time at UT.

"Archie's a really, really productive player," Pearl said. "He's kind of a glue guy for them out there on the floor."


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