Seeing as how January 1, 2012 is less than a week away (holy whoa!), now is a good time to take a look back at the year that was in Gamecock Nation. The next five days will each feature a post looking back at one of the biggest USC sports stories of the past year. Up first: the few ups (and many downs) of the men’s basketball team.
The 2010-11 season was not a good one for South Carolina. The team finished with a record of 14-16 overall and 5-11 in the conference. They were knocked out in the first round of the SEC Tournament for the third straight year, and fans started to trust Darrin Horn’s coaching ability less and less. As if that weren’t bad enough, the off-season brought more problems. Ramon Galloway and Stephen Spinella decided to transfer elsewhere for more playing opportunities (and perhaps better programs), and Murphy Holloway was granted permission to transfer back to Ole Miss. These guys weren’t the first to either leave or be dismissed from the team, either. Horn has lost players before, after, and/or during each season that he’s been at Carolina. Additionally, Bruce Ellington chose to become a two-sport athlete and joined the football team, which caused him to miss hoops practice and games, and also increased his risk for injury. For his part, Horn said that while these things were unfortunate, they didn’t mean that the program was failing. Not everybody was willing to buy that.
Fast forward to the 2011 season, where the Gamecocks are currently 5-6 (plus an exhibition game win), with losses coming against teams like Elon, Tennessee State, and Providence, as well as then-No. 2 Ohio State. They did beat Clemson, though, and while the Tigers are none too hot this year themselves, a win over CU is always a good thing. The team has only one senior, Malik Cooke, and three juniors – Lakeem Jackson, Alex Irwin, and Shane Phillips. With Cooke graduating this month, it appears that maybe the best thing about Horn is that all the guys who have played under him and exhausted their eligibility have at least earned a degree from USC.
The major issue here is that the men’s basketball team has not significantly improved, and has, in fact, gotten worse, since Darrin Horn’s first year. After being named co-champs of the SEC East in 2009, Horn’s teams have failed to even sniff division titles, let alone higher honors. Confidence in Horn and his program, as well as attendance at the Colonial Life Arena, continues to dwindle. The student section, better known as the Garnet Army, is looking more like the Garnet Regiment, and there is virtually no excitement about Carolina basketball from fans of any age. The return of Ellington has seemed to spark the team somewhat, but they’re going to need more than that. He can’t carry them on his own, especially after playing a full season of football, including the bowl game.
The fact that guys continually miss easy shots and free throws is obviously a point of concern. That, too, though, stems from coaching and recruiting. A less-than-successful program is not likely to attract top talent. Many have bemoaned Horn’s system and schemes, insisting that his plays don’t work for the players, nor do they work in the games. As I’ve said in previous posts, I don’t claim to be super knowledgeable about basketball, nor am I really a fan, but even I can recognize when something’s not working. Horn hasn’t proven that he can be an effective coach, and that’s a big problem. With the success that the baseball and football teams have had, it would be great to see the hoops team have some of their own. Whether they can do so with the current staff, though, remains to be seen.