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The Morning Dish – Wednesday, January 17, 2018

January 17, 2018 The Morning Dish No Comments

Even at bluebloods, following up a Final Four run is a tall order. At a school like South Carolina, which had not even reached the Elite Eight before their magical run last March, it has to be like trying to ascend Mount Everest, especially with a few starters gone.

The follow-up act for Frank Martin’s program has been solid, if unspectacular thus far. On Wednesday night, it got a big boost, however, as the Gamecocks rallied from 14 down to beat Kentucky 76-68 in Columbia.

Reloading is hard to do at South Carolina, though Martin is certainly trying to change that. There’s a big disparity in experience from last season to this season, as last season’s team had three seniors that all played key roles, led by Sindarius Thornwell. Not only are they gone, but Rakym Felder, their sparkplug point guard, has been suspended for the year after an arrest during the off-season. This season, they don’t have a true senior, though they have two graduate transfers and two redshirt juniors.

In other words, it’s a pretty different team. There is good talent among the newcomers, with Justin Minaya starting every game thus far and Felipe Haase and David Beatty playing good minutes right away, and that helps. But this team will be led by guys like Chris Silva, who can be a double-double machine if he can ever stay out of foul trouble regularly. Silva was a contributor to last season’s team, but now this may as well be his team.

The newness certainly shows up offensively, where the Gamecocks are last in the SEC in field goal percentage and give the ball away more than all but four SEC teams. They were no better on Wednesday in the former, shooting 37.7 percent against Kentucky, but they turned it over just nine times. That helped them rally and finish the game on an 18-3 run en route to outscoring the Wildcats 33-11 after Kentucky took their 14-point lead with 11:30 to play.

With this win, South Carolina now has an NCAA Tournament resume-building win that will continue to have shelf life. Neutral site losses to Illinois State and Temple may later look worse than they do now, especially in the latter case as Temple has surprisingly struggled in American Athletic Conference play. They have a win at Georgia, but other than that, they entered the night with no other good wins likely to increase in value. Their next best wins were over Wyoming, Wofford (road) and Vanderbilt.

The additional good thing is that the Gamecocks have no games left against teams whose RPI has three digits right now or is likely to later on. Mississippi State has the worst RPI of the remaining opponents, and the Bulldogs are in the 60s. That means they will have plenty of chances for quality wins and likely no chance, at least until a possible SEC Tournament matchup, for a bad loss.

South Carolina isn’t built to be a Final Four team just about every year like their opponent on Wednesday night. But as Martin continues his fine work, the Gamecocks are more and more showing that last season’s great run was not a flash-in-the-pan. That’s not to say they will be back there again soon, only that we’re seeing more evidence that he has built a program, not just one team. And the improved SEC is certainly all the better for it.


Side Dishes

Also in the SEC, Georgia pulled out a tough 61-60 road win at LSU on a basket in the final seconds by Yante Maten to cap a 21-point, 12-rebound outing, and Texas A&M finally got their first SEC win of the season, holding off Ole Miss 71-69 in College Station.

Trae Young was bound to have a bad night at some point, and Tuesday night was when it happened. The freshman sensation struggled in Oklahoma’s 87-69 loss at Kansas State, needing 21 shots to get 20 points and turning the ball over 12 times, which matched the Wildcats’ total on the night. It’s one bad night, though, against many very good ones, and there’s every reason to believe it will be an aberration when the season is over.

Few things are guaranteed in life, but it seems you can include Clemson losing at North Carolina among them. The Tigers still have yet to win in Chapel Hill, falling to 0-59 all-time there after the Tar Heels held them off 87-79. They first met there back in 1926. The ACC was home to another long losing streak on the night, except this one ended, as Louisville won at Notre Dame for the first time since 1994, an 82-78 double overtime win. Notre Dame, already without the injured Bonzie Colson, lost another player to injury as freshman wing D.J. Harvey injured his left knee and will have an MRI on Wednesday to determine the extent of it. Harvey rejoined the team on the bench to support them with his leg immobilized.

A couple of other results were noteworthy with former Big East teams. Syracuse kept Pittsburgh winless in ACC play with a 59-45 win, while UConn was thrashed by Memphis 73-49 in a game that felt like even more of a blowout. That wasn’t the only noteworthy blowout on the night, either, as Purdue ran away from Wisconsin 78-50 in West Lafayette as the Badgers fall to 2-4 in Big Ten play.

The McDonald’s All-American game rosters were unveiled on Tuesday, and while six players are currently uncommitted (that will drop by one on Saturday when Zion Williamson announces his commitment), Duke and Kansas lead the way with three signees among the selections. The game was in Chicago for the past seven years, but moves to Philips Arena in Atlanta this year.


Tonight’s Menu

We’ve got some west coast action to go with a number of good matchups east of there.

  • Georgetown welcomes Villanova in the first Big East game of the night (6:30 p.m.), while St. John’s has a tall order going for their first conference win at Xavier and Creighton hosts Seton Hall (both at 8:30 p.m.)
  • A game that has lost a bit of its luster due to the road team coming back to earth is SMU visiting Wichita State (7 p.m.)
  • A big rivalry game is on tap in Tuscaloosa as Alabama welcomes Auburn (7 p.m.), while Arkansas visits Florida in a game tipping at the same time.
  • Another rivalry game on the slate is in Richmond, where VCU hosts Richmond (7 p.m.)
  • Big 12 action features Texas hosting Texas Tech (8 p.m.), then a matchup of 1-4 teams as Iowa State visits TCU (9 p.m.)
  • Ohio State puts its undefeated Big Ten mark on the line as they head to Northwestern (9 p.m.)
  • >Missouri hosts Tennessee in an intriguing SEC matchup (9 p.m.)
  • In Pac-12 action, the Arizona schools head to the Bay Area as Arizona visits Cal (9 p.m.) and Arizona State visits Stanford (11 p.m.)
  • The Mountain West has a busy slate of games, the best of which may be one of the last ones of the night: Fresno State at San Diego State, tipping at 11 p.m.

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