South Carolina can't win the SEC Tournament on Wednesday night. It can only lose it. So the mindset has to be not trying to win the thing, but trying to advance to the next day, according to the Gamecocks' head coach.
"It's not win five of five, it's win one in one. If you look at you have to win five games in five days, and some of the teams only play twice, you've got no chance. And if we win one more time then we'll talk Wednesday night about Thursday. It's just like in the NCAA Tournament, you don't sit there and talk about everyone, you talk about the game you're playing - that's it. That's the only one you focus in on. At least that's what works for me," said Frank Martin, who spoke with the media on Tuesday about the Gamecocks' upcoming battle with Auburn in the first round of the SEC Tournament on Wednesday night.
The head coach understands that the Auburn Tigers are in the same position, and that given their 14-15 record, they actually have slightly more to play for, as a couple of wins in Atlanta can push them over .500 with a chance to play in one of the multiple post-season tournaments available to teams who don't make the big dance.
"We're going to get Auburn's best shot. [Auburn guard Chris] Denson's has been as good a scorer as we've had in this league. There's no tomorrow for him, just like there's no tomorrow for us, unless we can figure out a way to win it."
Denson joins K.T. Harrell and Tahj Shamsid-Deen as the primary weapons in Auburn's arsenal. Martin thinks those three give Carolina particular match-up problems, which explains how the Gamecocks lost to the Tigers twice so far this year, at home 79-74 and in Auburn, 83-67.
"They've got three guards that can really score. Early in the year, [Shamsid-Deen] wasn't as consistent as he's been as of late. Just like our freshmen, they've played 30 minutes a game for 30 games, they're not really freshmen anymore. They play a different way with a different understanding. And those two guys they've got on the wings [Denson and Harrell], they score with the best of them in this league. And we have to defend them with Brent, who's not good guarding point guards, so then you've got to put him off the ball, and he's small, and both of their guards are 6'4" and 6'5". So it's a hard match-up for him. And then you end up with two freshmen in Duane and Sindarius guarding the other two. So it's a constant game of chess trying to figure out how to guard with whom. You're not going to stop their three guards - very few have - but you have to figure out a way to slow them down."
Martin does think the Gamecocks can come out with a different result on Wednesday evening, based in part on how his team has improved from January despite the loss of its two best point guards - Tyrone Johnson (to injury) and Bruce Ellington (to the NFL Draft).
"When you look at my coaching career, our teams usually play [their] best basketball at the end of the year," said Martin. But he noted this was particularly challenging for Carolina this year because the losses of Johnson and Ellington required the Gamecocks "to revamp everything that [we] spent all offseason trying to put together. And we did that. It hasn't been pretty at times, but as young as we are, our players commitment to adjusting on the fly was pretty good, and it gets me excited about coaching moving forward here."
The Gamecocks and Tigers tip off at 7pm. Find a preview of that game (and the entire tournament for Carolina) here.