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The SEC East in the NCAA Tournament: Why South Carolina Struggled in 2010-2011?

One thing that you've probably noticed about the NCAA Tournament's field is that all five of South Carolina's SEC East brethren made it. Florida garnered a two seed, Kentucky a four seed, Vanderbilt a five seed, Tennessee a nine seed, and Georgia a ten seed. Carolina was the only SEC East team not to make the field.

When I saw that Arkansas's John Pelphrey got the boot yesterday, one of my first thoughts was that while Pelphrey finished with an overall winning record this year, any Arkansas coach who fails to do better than Pelphrey did in the weak SEC West probably  deserves to get the boot. That's not the case in this year's East, and one thing that's been left out of the conversation about Darrin Horn and USC's struggles in 2010-11 had been the Gamecocks strength of schedule. The inclusion of the rest of the East's teams in the tournament field confirms that USC did, indeed, play a pretty tough slate this year. Is this an excuse for the Gamecocks' performance? No--certainly, a good team needs to be able to win more than two games against its interdivisional opponents, regardless of how good they are, and regardless, it's not like Carolina didn't lose to a bad Auburn team and an average Mississippi St. team. However, it is to say that perhaps Carolina wasn't quite as bad as we thought.

What's also interesting to note is how much experience some of the teams that made the tournament were fielding. Florida was loaded with upperclassman this year and loses Chandler Parsons, Vernon Macklin, and Alex Tyus to graduation, while Kenny Boynton may consider an early departure. At Georgia, both Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie are flight risks as juniors. Tennessee will lose Brian Williams and Melvin Goins to graduation and will have to sweat out Scotty Hopson's decision whether or not to leave early; the Vols are also, of course, probably going to consider firing Bruce Pearl for his transgressions and may be staring down sanctions. Kentucky's only major senior is Josh Harrelson, but the 'Cats stand to lose Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight, and Darius Miller all seem likely to go pro. Vandy has no key seniors, although I'm not sure which of their better players--particularly Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins--might have NBA on their minds.

In other words, what was an inexperienced South Carolina team in 2010-11 should be one of the conference's most experienced teams next year. Kentucky will likely reload quickly (that won't change while Calipari is there), but I expect Florida, Tennessee, and Georgia each to struggle to maintain their 2010-11 form, with Florida being the most likely to rebound due to Donovan's strong recruiting. This will present a good opportunity for Carolina to rebound with a strong 2011-12. It will also mean that there will be little excuse for Darrin Horn to fail to improve this team's record.