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December 19, 2013

Hood: Sparse hoops slate failed players



Sure, Manhattan dismantled South Carolina (2-4) in every facet of the game on Tuesday night, outshooting (47 percent to 43 percent), outrebounding (33-27) and displaying more athleticism (11 steals, nine blocks) than the inexperienced Gamecocks at Colonial Life Arena.

But USC faced another formidable foe as well - the schedule.

When the Gamecocks took the floor to face the Jaspers (surely, a NCAA-caliber team), they were playing just their second game in 22 days and third in 30 days.

Practice is nice, but at some point a sparse game schedule conspires against you, and that's exactly what happened in this case.

If you disagree, go ask Allen Iverson about the differences between practice and games.

Afterwards, Frank Martin acknowledged he might have made a mistake setting up the schedule, saying, "It probably wasn't a very good idea to have so many days off between games. Repetitive practice probably didn't help us and got us out of whack a little bit."

Certainly, guarding a teammate on the perimeter in practice day-after-day fell short of adequately preparing the USC players for Manhattan's George Beamon (8-of-13 FGA, 7-of-7 FT, 26 points in 29 minutes), undoubtedly one of the Top 10 players to step on the floor at Colonial Life Arena this season.

The reason for scheduling so few games before the conclusion of the fall semester is evident: Martin hoped to play as few games as possible without guard Tyrone Johnson, who transferred from Villanova last January.

Initially, USC thought Johnson wouldn't be eligible to play under NCAA rules until classes ended, meaning the Manhattan game was eyed for his debut. But Johnson was told before the Nov. 9 season opener that he had been granted a waiver by the NCAA allowing him to compete effective immediately.

As a result, a scheduling strategy that saw USC go 11 days without a game until traveling to Oklahoma State on Dec. 6 and gave them another 10 days off before taking on Manhattan flew out the window, fashioning an unfair scenario for the players.

Ironically, Thursday's 4 p.m. home matchup with USC-Upstate marks the beginning of a stretch in which the Gamecocks will play seven games in 16 days.

So, USC will jump from barely playing any games at all to one of the busiest slates in the country. Go figure.

And the schedule is hardly filled with cupcakes. Perennial NCAA Tournament team St. Mary's is the first opponent at the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu, with the second game against Hawaii or Boise State (recently lost its first game at Kentucky).

Once the Gamecocks return home, they must face Akron, Marshall and S.C. State. Oh yeah, the SEC opener on Jan. 8 is at Florida, one of the top teams in the country.

The upcoming challenging schedule (remember, USC has already faced Baylor, Clemson, Oklahoma State and Manhattan) means the young Gamecocks must grow up very quickly over the next month or the season could go south in a hurry.

"We just have to grow up," Martin said in understatement. "There is no other way around the bill. We know we're better."

If USC wants to play meaningful games in February, it must log a bunch of wins between now and the trip to Ole Miss on Feb. 1.

Did I mention five of the first eight conference games are on the road? Clearly, the Gamecocks have their work cut out for them.

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