Now that the season is over, we can give a little thought to our new coach, our overall performance this year, and our prospects for next year. On the surface, this year was a success, considering that we surpassed most prognosticators' expectations. On the other hand, our late season collapse has probably left a bad taste in some people's mouths.
Considering that you can interpret this season in various ways, in the interests of coming up with a measured response to what we saw this year, I'm going to detail two possible reactions to the season. You, the fan, can decide which basket you fall into.
The "OMG Darrin Horn is Going to Take Us the the SEC Title Next Year" Reaction
Those in this camp believe that Horn did magic this year, taking a rag-tag bunch of scrubs that couldn't win games last year to the brink of the school's first NCAAs berth in several years. They'll tell you that the evidence for a superlative performance is as follows: This team won 21 games this year against only 14 last year despite playing essentially the same lineup. Many of last year's weaknesses remained, among them over-reliance on guard play, poor free-throw shooting, and a lack of depth that often cost us late in close games. Horn was able to bring the team together and maximize their potential despite the fact that we lacked some of the long, athletic players he likes. The team consequently surpassed expectations; we were projected by most to finish in the bottom half of the East and be lucky to make the NIT, and instead, we shared the Division Title and came very close to making the NCAAs.
Moreover, these folks will tell you to think of the future with hope. We have lots of returning talent, they'll say, assuming that Devan Downey returns. We have a decent recruiting class of Horn-selected players coming in, among them underrated prospects like Ramon Galloway and Lakeem Jackson. Add to all of this a coach that has been a success and that will surely only get better, we're no doubt set for a real run at national recognition next year, aren't we?
The"Ho Hum, More of the Same is on the Way" Response
The person telling you this will say that, despite appearances to the contrary, our accomplishments this year really weren't all that remarkable. For one thing, he'll tell you that preseason expectations were unreasonably low, which has given the team's relatively reasonable achievements a false glare of superlativity. Why shouldn't it be reasonable for us to finish in the top half of the East, he'll say, considering that teams like Vandy lost so much and we return all starters? Maybe those starters weren't the most talented in the SEC, but at least they were the most experienced. Moreover, didn't we lose lots of close games last year? Maybe this year we just had a bit more luck late in the game. This person will also tell you that the SEC was weak this year. Therefore, doing decently well is not an indication of success, but rather of avoiding utter failure. Finally, this person will point to the late-season collapse and say that, in the end, we failed to accomplish anything that really matters.
For this negative respondent, Darrin Horn, while not a failure, still has a lot to prove. The question then becomes, how will he do next year? This person will respond skeptically. Won't the SEC only get better? Can Horn solve problems with turnovers, defense, and free throw shooting? Time will tell, but this person will be hesitant to respond will gushing enthusiasm.
What Do You Think?
Ultimately, most people will not tend towards the extremes but will be on the fence. That's true for me. I think this year was a decided step in the right direction; I just don't think you can discount the significant improvement we saw and the fact that we have lots coming back next year. However, I also don't think Horn did magic or that we're necessarily going to be winning SEC Titles anytime soon. Coach Horn and his Gamecocks took advantage of a down SEC and they have a lot to prove next year. If Downey returns, expectations will be high. Can we live up to them?