Needless to say, it hasn't been a whole lot of fun watching the basketball team this year. Just past the mid-season, the Gamecocks are in a deep hole in SEC play, having all but mathematically assured a losing record. There were some ugly losses to lightweight non-conference competition to add insult to injury. Fan support, consequently, has dipped to a nearly all-time low. Just how bad are things, overall? Let's take a look at a few key dimensions and see what we can determine.
Guard Play: D-
Coming into the season, I had high hopes that Carolina would enjoy solid guard play. Sure, Bruce Ellington was playing football, but Eric Smith and Brian Leonard were reportedly much improved, while Damien Leonard was primed to set Columbia on fire. Now, we're back to where we were last year, with Smith and Leonard riding the bench, Leonard wildly inconsistent, and Ellington the only consistent threat to score, a good player despite his pedestrian FG%. Leonard has shown some flashes and I believe he will, eventually, be a good player, but Smith and Leonard simply don't look the part of SEC-caliber guards, although I'm still holding out hope for them. Simply not a good group.
Front-Court Play: C
I actually haven't been too disappointed in this group. Malik Cooke is likely the team's MVP thus far, having improved his play around the basket. Damontre Harris is the team's most improved player, having taken the next step from the raw potential he exhibited last year. He looks like he may eventually become an All-Conference-type player. Carlton Geathers has shown some signs of eventually being capable of playing a contributing role. All in all, this isn't an excellent group of players, but it's not a terrible one, either.
Strategically, I actually don't think that Coach Horn has done a bad job this year. This time last year, we were suffering through game after game of Bruce Ellington and Ramon Galloway combining for horrid shooting numbers, wondering why Coach Horn didn't institute some semblance of a half-court set. There have been some games like that this year, too, but we've also seen Carolina commit to pounding the ball inside a bit more, with Malik Cooke and a maturing Damontre Harris providing solid play in the paint. We're beginning to see Coach Horn realize that you can't solely rely on torrid shooting and a stingy press to win games; you need to be able to grind and play smart, too. Another thing to note that reflects well on him includes our improved turnover numbers. The truth is, this team is losing because is just doesn't have the players to compete in the SEC. We have a couple of good individual performances per game, but not enough to really make a difference. Coach Horn is trying to do what he can with what he has.
All of that said, this is Horn's team. They're his players, and he has no one to blame for the situation but himself. Several key players simply haven't been developed as well as they should have been (Lakeem Jackson comes to mind), while roster turnover has also hurt us. I won't blame Horn for the Murphy Holloway situation; reports are that Holloway was something of a locker-room cancer. However, I still don't understand why we couldn't keep a spot for Galloway, who is running wild in the A10 this year. There are decisions and coaching failures on Horn's fault that have created this situation.
A D+ is bad, but I'm sure many Gamecocks fans would rate the season lower. What's keeping me from doing that is that I do believe this team is sticking with the program and trying to win some games down the stretch. And there have been enough signs of improvement in recent weeks to make one believe a decent end to the season--which, not coincidentally, will feature an easier schedule.
Still, a team is judged by its record, and right now, we're at the bottom of the SEC. What's on a lot of people's minds right now is what this means for Coach Horn's future. I don't know the answer to that question, and I don't think Eric Hyman does either. A week or two ago, I was saying I thought Horn would be back next year, regardless. Now, after the UK debacle, I'm not sure. I still, though, think Horn will keep his job if he finishes strongly. Many may disagree, but Hyman has reasons to keep him. If he loses out, though, those reasons may not be good enough.