Sapakoff: Grading the sad state of state hoops; C- for Gamecocks, Cougars
Sadly, South Carolina is as much a college basketball hotbed as Cosmo Kramer is a wealthy industrialist.
Of all the nation's 351 NCAA Division I men's basketball teams, four of the nine worst in USA Today's Sagarin computer ranking are from the Palmetto State. That quartet doesn't include College of Charleston and South Carolina, but both had losing records and lots of empty seats.
Wofford and Coastal Carolina saved the season, avoiding collisions with the top seeds in their respective conference tournaments and advancing to the NCAA tournament. Clemson came up a few late-season ACC wins short of being office pool-worthy but will make the NIT.
Congratulations to fans for surviving this peculiar interlude between football and baseball seasons.
It wasn't always this way. As recently as 1998, our state had four teams in the NCAA tournament - South Carolina, Clemson, College of Charleston and S.C. State. The biggest difference between then and now? Coaching.
South Carolina had Eddie Fogler, who had already won an SEC regular season championship at Vanderbilt before winning one at South Carolina.
Clemson had Rick Barnes, a proven major college recruiter at Providence.
College of Charleston had John Kresse, whose accomplishments are worthy of Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame induction.
S.C. State had Cy Alexander. He led the Bulldogs to five NCAA tournament appearances.
The NCAA Tournament-bound Terriers (20-12) are a year ahead of schedule. With only one senior leaving the team and Davidson leaving the Southern Conference, look for another strong Wofford run next March. More impressively, the team survived the loss of the best name in college basketball when Indiana Faithful returned to Australia at mid-season.
Cliff Ellis' Chanticleers (21-12) went 12-3 down the stretch. Coastal Carolina doesn't rely on seniors and should be better next season. Elijah Wilson, a 6-4 freshman guard, is the leading scorer.
The Eagles in the Big South preseason poll were picked to finish fifth in the South Division but finished second (one game behind Coastal Carolina) and went 20-13. They made the tournament championship game (losing on Coastal Carolina's home court) despite sweeping the Chanticleers in the regular season.
The Tigers (20-12) were picked to finish 14th in the ACC preseason media poll, but wound up as the No. 6 seed in Greensboro. Most Clemson fans like head coach Brad Brownell because he's a swell guy, a fine floor coach who teaches tenacious defense and knows how to beat South Carolina. Still, Cliff Ellis went to the NCAA Tournament three times in 10 years at Clemson, Rick Barnes three times in four years and Oliver Purnell three times in seven years. Brownell is 1-for-4 and that NCAA Tournament appearance was during his first year. With or without NBA prospect K.J. McDaniels, Brownell can't go backward next season.
Once again, the Spartans (19-14) were in the Atlantic Sun Conference mix: a third-place finish, a double-overtime loss to NCAA Tournament-bound Mercer in an Atlantic Sun Tournament semifinal game. At Mercer. Eddie Payne's senior-led team opened with a win at Virginia Tech and knocked off South Carolina, 74-68, in Columbia.
The Bulldogs (9-21, 5-11 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) finished the year with five straight losses. They must build around young talent, including sophomore forward Darryl Palmer (Timberland High School).
The Paladins (9-21, 3-13) finished ahead of only the Citadel in the SoCon standings. Excuses: Niko Medved is in his first season as head coach; Furman is very young.
College of Charleston
Palpable angst infects TD Arena. Winning will help. The Cougars' 6-10 record in their first Colonial Athletic Association season (14-18 overall) was disappointing, and yet they might have won the Southern Conference title this year (see 12-point road win over No. 1 SoCon Tournament seed Davidson). True, 330th in the nation in points per game isn't an effective approach. But this team had significant injury issues and it's hard to fairly judge head coach Doug Wojcik after only two seasons.
The Buccaneers came so close to the NCAA Tournament last year, losing to Liberty in the Big South Conference championship game. They were favored to win it all this season and got off to a nice start, winning at Delaware, the eventual CAA champion. Injuries and inconsistency kept junior guards Arlon Harper and Saah Nimley from duplicating 2012-2013 success, but 13-18 (6-10 in the Big South) was quite a thud.
The Gamecocks are 9-27 in SEC regular-season games under Frank Martin. As with Wojcik at the College of Charleston, Martin clearly deserves more than two years to turn things around at South Carolina (14-20). The upside of freshmen Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice and a strong finish seem promising. By the way, Eddie Fogler reached the NCAA Tournament in his fourth year at South Carolina, Dave Odom in his third year. A 2015 NIT berth is the logical next step for Martin. And, hopefully, the head coach learned a composure lesson with his one-game suspension last week.
The Citadel will bring Chuck Driesell back for a fifth season despite a 31-94 record and fan apathy. A hard-working young Bulldog team showed life late in the season, winning three of its last four games to finish 7-26 (2-14 in the Southern Conference).
Low expectations, sure. But not No. 350 of the 351 NCAA Division I teams in the Sagarin computer ranking (just ahead of Grambling). On the bright side, the young Blue Hose (6-26, 2-14 in the Big South) got their two conference wins over the last eight games.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff