Mobley: I Have Hoops Questions
Commentary by Phil Mobley.
I am not a college basketball expert, nor do I wish to play one on the Internet. What I am is a huge fan of college sports in general, and football in particular. When the winning coach hoists that silly little crystal football in early January, I do what millions of others like me do, which is to turn a larger proportion of my attention to basketball until it reaches the beautiful crescendo (and illicit friendly gambling opportunity) that is The Tournament.
I repeat, I am not a college basketball expert, but I know enough about the game and the Gamecocks to have some questions about this team, a stirring comeback win in Nashville notwithstanding. I suppose the overarching question is whether this year's team is living up to expectations, and, to put that in context, whether those expectations are reasonable. To take the second part first, I'll answer not in my words, but in those of someone much more qualified to respond. He just happens to also be South Carolina's head coach. "We aspire to the NCAA tournament," Coach Odom said at the preseason SEC media event. "We're in our fifth year. We've got the ability to be better or just as good [as the team that won the NIT a season ago]. We're going to be competitive."
Please understand that I do not wish to play "gotcha!" with Dave Odom. Instead, I want to suggest that, despite Carolina's infrequent appearance in the postseason event that matters, Odom himself helped to set that expectation for this team. He certainly did nothing to discourage it, in much the same way (though, on a different level) that Phil Fulmer failed to caution against SEC and national title expectations for his Tennessee football team. Two things, then, become obvious: that the NCAA tournament is a reasonable expectation, and that the Gamecocks are failing quite miserably to meet it, even if not quite so miserably as the Volunteers of the gridiron.
Oh, but I have other questions as well...
· Was Carlos Powell really that good? I realize he was the emotional leader of last year's team, but everyone loses their best player every now and then, and most of the SEC lost more total talent than the Gamecocks.
· What is the offense? Coach Odom has been mildly criticized for having so many "slashers" on the roster. Well, that can be fine and dandy if they actually do some slashing. As it is, the game plan too often appears to be to stand around and fire up a long three-pointer when the shot clock winds down. To their credit, the Gamecocks are hitting more of these than usual, but it doesn't usually help them win.
· Where is Antoine Tisby? In the second half of last season, Tisby was an assertive, if not dominant, inside presence. Carolina needed him to continue on his upward arc, but it hasn't materialized. The deafening silence of the vaunted Ousmane Konate isn't helping either, even if it's nobody's fault he got injured.
· What is the personnel rotation? I can understand why Tarence Kinsey is playing a lot of minutes, as he is one already good player who has shown great improvement. I can even understand (given available alternatives) why Tre Kelley, for all his ball-control issues, is playing even more. What I don't get is why only three other players are getting over 20 minutes per game. The last five games not played over New Year's weekend should provide ample evidence that the 'Cocks are wiped at the end of games. The lone exception was Wednesday night, where players with names like Day and McDowell made more than their usual contribution.
· What is with the defense? It seems to me that, without a dominating inside presence, the strategy would be about using a whole bunch of "slashers" to play an attacking, trapping full-court press defense and an up-tempo offense. Settling into a half court game can keep the score low (and therefore close), but it ultimately plays into the hands of the Gamecocks' opponents.
Now, on to the one remaining question: can this season be salvaged? There isn't yet a quit in this team, and winning a road game, albeit against a mediocre Vanderbilt team, could be the catalyst Carolina needs to get back into its NIT form. On the other hand, the Gamecocks just started a six-game stretch during which the only home game comes against highly rated Florida. (Not that it matters: the Gamecocks have already lost at home to the only to Eastern Division teams picked by the SEC media to finish below them in the standings.) Having begun 1-3 against what ought to have been the weakest four-game stretch of the conference schedule, it doesn't look good. Of course, things didn't look very good for Coach Spurrier's bunch on Oct. 2, either. Gamecock fans can be grateful that the gap between football season and baseball season (which starts in less than four weeks) was shortened this year, but if you're going to play a sport, you might as well play it to win. Now is not the time to make a final evaluation on the season, the team, or its leadership, but it is certainly the time to panic.
A pitiful loss to Georgia and an unlikely win at Vanderbilt puts the Odom-meter (10 = Christmas bonus and 1 = severance pay) at a 4.0.
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