SEC Make or Break: South Carolina GamecocksPosted by Gerald Smith on October 26th, 2011
The Make or Break series will tell us what we need to know about each SEC team by looking at the three most important non-conference games on each team’s schedule. Depending on the outcome, these three games could make OR break that team’s season because of the strengths it shows or weaknesses it could expose. This post features the South Carolina Gamecocks.
One must wonder if South Carolina coach Darrin Horn just swung by Gigi’s to fill out his non-conference schedule. Most of the mid-majors scheduled — including Southeastern Louisiana, Wofford, Presbyterian and South Carolina State — are predicted to struggle in their own conferences. (If you’re a smart RTC reader, you’d already know this thanks to our awesome Conference Primer series.) In games with preseason #1 North Carolina and preseason #3 Ohio State, USC will get a strength-of-schedule boost but will be heavy underdogs. With a slew of transfers and guard Bruce Ellington‘s availability for the team in question, don’t blame the Gamecocks for wanting to schedule lightly while they piece together a team that can compete in a much-stronger Southeastern Conference. Coach Horn’s team might need to rely on a hard-working defense during November and December while they learn who can score on a consistent basis. Then the team must hope Ellington can play major minutes when the SEC schedule starts up.
Three Four key non-conference games that will make or break the Gamecocks’ season:
- Nov. 20: vs. Tennessee State, Nov. 22: vs. Mississippi Valley State — The reason to lump South Carolina’s home games of the Las Vegas Invitational Tournament together? Tennessee State and Mississippi Valley State both offer experienced squads that have enough talent to upset the Gamecocks. First USC must deal with Tennessee State’s Robert Covington, a 6’9″ forward who averaged 13.4 PPG and 7.5 RPG last season. The Tiger’s sophomore guard Patrick Miller was named Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year last season by averaging 11.4 PPG and 3.0 assists per game. Two days later, Mississippi Valley State brings a pair of senior guards to Colonial Life Arena: Terrence Joyner (10.1 PPG) and Falando Jones (8.0 PPG, 3.7 RPG). In the frontcourt the Delta Devils feature 6’8″ Paul Crosby who averaged 12.1 PPG and 7.0 RPG and was recently named preseason First Team All-SWAC. South Carolina must apply a balanced defense and score consistently to prevent an embarrassing (and RPI-devistating) loss before their trip to Las Vegas.
- Dec. 1: vs. Providence — The Gamecocks’ first game back from Vegas will also be the first game of ESPN’s Big East/SEC Challenge. Providence will be working in new head coach Ed Cooley and his efficient defensive schemes. Outside of junior guard Vincent Council, the Friars have no outstanding playmakers or scorers. Freshman guard Kiwi Gardner, the expected backup for Council, was ruled ineligible by the NCAA and leaves just nine scholarship players on the roster. If South Carolina can find some frontcourt scoring from sophomores Damontre Harris and RJ Slawson, it will propel the team to an expected victory and show on a national broadcast that the Gamecocks are improving regardless of what happened in Vegas.
- Dec. 4: at Clemson — Like their in-state rivals, the Tigers must replace experienced contributors on their roster (guard Demontez Stitt and forward/center Jerai Grant). Clemson will be expecting their class of talented freshmen — including forward KJ McDaniels and guards TJ Sapp and Devin Coleman — to provide a spark from the bench and support their less-talented but experienced starters. Junior forward Devin Booker is expected to be the primary target inside for the Tigers; USC redshirt freshman Carlton Geathers may be asked to use his 6’10” size to limit Booker’s control in the paint. If South Carolina can put together a complete game against a balanced and deep Clemson team, they can pull out an RPI-improving road win against a team that should be competitive in the ACC. With a loss, the weight of USC’s cupcakes may pull them into a upsetting need for upsetting teams in the SEC.