COLUMBIA — South Carolina basketball began its current Southeastern Conference era in 1991-92, when it joined the league after spending eight seasons in the Metro Conference.
South Carolina vs. GeorgiaWHEN: 1:30 p.m.WHERE: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia TV: SEC Network RADIO: RECORDS: USC 12-8 (2-5 SEC); Georgia 9-11 (3-4) NOTES: USC is coming off a 75-36 loss at Florida on Wednesday, while Georgia was at home on Wednesday and beat Auburn 57-49. The Bulldogs are in their fourth season under former Nevada coach Mark Fox, who went 15-17 and 5-11 last season after going 21-12 and 9-7 in his second year, when he lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Since jumping to the SEC, the Gamecocks are 343-327 overall and 131-212 in league play — a lot of losses to examine when trying to put Wednesday’s defeat at fourth-ranked Florida in context.
The Gamecocks went to Gainesville riding a 75-54 home win over Arkansas. They hadn’t defeated an SEC opponent by 20-plus points since February 2006. And while they knew the daunting challenge that awaited them in Florida, none of them could have envisioned such a brutal result: Florida 75, USC 36.
The 39-point margin of defeat was USC’s third-largest in any game since it joined the SEC, and the largest in a conference game, surpassing a 38-point loss to Kentucky in 2006-07. Only a 47-point defeat at Syracuse in 1998-99 and a 41-pointer against North Carolina in 1992-93 stand as bigger blowout losses in USC’s SEC era.
While USC has now lost 16 times by 30-plus points since joining the SEC, including 13 times in league games, Wednesday was the first time since 2007-08 that USC had lost by that many to a team other than Kentucky, which has defeated USC by 30-plus seven times since 1991-92.
In 2007-08, USC actually beat Arkansas in its next game after falling by 33 to Tennessee. But just like all the other numbers surrounding USC’s loss Wednesday, that January 2008 game against Arkansas will be meaningless when the Gamecocks host Georgia today.
In many ways, what happened in Gainesville will also hold little weight in the assessment of coach Frank Martin’s first season, provided the Gamecocks don’t dwell on the blowout.
Florida could very well win the national championship, but certainly didn’t get any resume-building points in its pursuit of a No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament by defeating an overmatched USC team. The game, as it turned out, was relatively worthless for the Gators.
And it’s worth remembering that Martin’s predecessor, Darrin Horn, didn’t get fired because he lost by 34 points at home last season to Kentucky, the eventual national champion. He got fired because he went 13-35 against the SEC in his final three seasons. In the final analysis of Martin’s first year, nobody will fault him for losing to vastly more talented teams, like Florida or even this year’s flawed-by-comparison Kentucky squad, which hosts USC on Tuesday night.
Martin certainly would have loved to win in Gainesville, but he surely knows beating Georgia today at home is a more reasonable task for the Gamecocks (12-8, 2-5 SEC). Yet the Gamecocks are catching the Bulldogs on a hot streak. After starting 6-10 and 0-3 in the SEC, they have won three of their past four games, over LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn.
The Bulldogs are young, but no longer playing like it. Their top two scorers are sophomores: guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (17.5 points per game) and forward Nemanja Djurisic (7.7). Their third-leading scorer, guard Charles Mann, is a freshman. Caldwell-Pope, the team’s No. 2 scorer last season, dropped 20, 22 and 22 points during the three most recent wins. In the lone loss, to Florida, he scored 16. In those four games, he shot 27 of 48.
“I think they’re playing their best basketball of the year,” Martin said of Georgia. “I think they’re the perfect example of why people kind of jump to conclusions in November. They’re one of the youngest teams in the country. In November, as a coach, you’re trying to get those freshmen to understand how to be a college student, let alone understand how to practice and how important it is to prepare and understand how to value every possession.
“We all do this, including me, is jump to conclusions when things don’t work out right away, the way we’d like for them. But that’s why, as coaches, it’s so important we understand that you better have a little patience because you’ve just got to keep knocking on that door and stay consistent with your kids.”
Florida forward Will Yeguete (15) tries to knock the ball out of the hands of South Carolina's Michael Carrera (24) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Gainesville, Fla., Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)×
Bruce Ellington and the Gamecocks will play host to SEC rival Georgia today at 1:30 p.m.×