Although there were some close games, the first day of the NCAA tournament was rather uneventful in terms of actual wins by the little guys. However, there was one notable upset, a classic 12 over 5: Western Kentucky, the perennial Sun Belt force, over Big Ten power Illinois.This game is worth looking at for Gamecocks fans because the WKU team that beat Illinois--the Illini are a good , talented team that were considered a dark horse contender at points during the year, although they were without a star guard last night--was largely built by Darrin Horn. I in no way mean to to take anything away from WKU's current coach Ken McDonald, who obviously deserves credit along with his players for pulling off the big upset. However, it's worth recognizing that this is the rangy, fast type of team that we may see soon in Columbia.
Once we get that kind of personnell in town, there's no reason to believe that we won't begin to see the big wins as well. A lot of commentators have criticized Horn's trapping style throughout this season, wondering if it was the appropriate approach for us to take. And the truth is, those folks are right to wonder. Our team is not built to trap; we have some fast players like Devan Downey that can grap a steal from time to time, and we have some of the long, quick guys like Dominique Archie that are essential for grabbing that over-the-middle-steal against a slower wing man. However, at other positions and depth-wise we aren't built for that defense; in that sense, Horn's critics have been right.
However, this WKU team, a team that Horn recruited, was able to pull off a monumental upset running a Horn-like defense. The Hilltoppers' continued success should shed some light on Horn's strategies this year. We wondered why we kept with the trap. Why we kept fast lineups in against teams we need speed against. Why--perhaps most importantly--we're recruiting guys like Lakeem Jackson and Jhondre Jefferson. These are talented players that could make things happen for any team. But, as long, rangy players that can shoot, they could make special things happen on a Horn team.
The moral of this story? Folks, we're in good hands. Darrin Horn led WKU to winning seasons in all of his years there, but fans criticized him for not coming through with the big season until last year, when he took the Hilltoppers to the Sweet Sixteen and almost took out UCLA for a semifinals berth. Give this guy time. When he finds his personnel, his teams win big.There's no reason to believe he can't do better here than he did at WKU.
And, if you're watching, go Hilltoppers. Beat Gonzaga!