I still can't get over the fact that we beat Florida on Saturday.
It's not that I thought we couldn't win, it's just that history wasn't exactly on our side. Coming off of easily the most disappointing loss of the season to a terrible Missouri team, I have to admit that I wasn't radiating positive vibes going into the game. As one of my good friends (who is an Arkansas Razorbacks fan) put it on Twitter Saturday night after the Hogs pummeled Mizzou, "Missouri is like a make-a-pretty-crappy-team-feel-really-good potion and the Hogs are drinking it up tonight." We lost to them. So, needless to say, I wasn't expecting much against the Gators. However, when you jump out to a 30-13 lead suddenly your pregame expectations don't matter, because there's no way we're blowing a 17-point first half cushion at home, right?
It was just so classic South Carolina basketball, wasn't it? How many times have we come so close only to fall flat on our faces when it mattered the absolute most? How many times have you gotten your hopes up so high, only to see them come crashing down in dramatic, soul-crushing fashion? After surrendering a 20-0 run, I was in full-on "prepare for the letdown of not making the NCAA Tournament" mode. I don't know about you all, but I've gotten really good over the years at spotting the crushing pain before it swoops down on me when it comes to the Gamecocks losing. I almost pride myself on it. I don't think it's possible to be a Gamecock fan without being an optimist - knowing that next year is our year kind of comes with the territory. But I, like all of us, have been burned so many times because of that blinding optimism, that I find myself preparing for the worst in the biggest moments more and more often these days. If I can mentally ready myself for the heartache, it will hurt less. Or something like that. It's my brain's natural coping mechanism against this disease (being a die-hard Carolina fan) that I'm stricken with. But that was the craziest thing about the Florida game: the huge, heart-breaking let down I knew to be ready for never came. It was inexplicable. Whether it be Thornwell's breakaway dunk, Carrera's three's or even Big Chat making plays at the end, we found a way to not lose over and over and over again.
You want to know what the most encouraging part of Saturday was? That was our time to blow it - but we didn't. We had lost our last two games in brutal fashion, the NCAA tournament no longer looked like a sure-thing and then we threw away a 17-point first half lead. Teams better than us would have folded in that game. The Gamecock teams of the last three years would have withered in that moment. But this team didn't. They found a way to win a game that conventional South Carolina basketball wisdom says they should have lost. That's why this team is both so exciting and so scary right now. This year and this team feel different. I want it to be different. I ache for it to be different. But on the other hand, every Gamecock fiber in my body, which has been through painful loss after painful loss over the years, is screaming at me right now, telling me not to get my hopes too high or I'll get burned like always. I'm scared to fall head-over-heels for this team because I know how that has turned out for me before. The only problem is that this team has already proven conventional wisdom, the misfortune of the last few years and what makes sense on paper doesn't matter.
Michael Carrera doesn't hit three's - but right now he does.
The Lithuanians weren't supposed to win us a bunch of games - but they have.
We never pack out the CLA - but now we do.
We don't go on the road and beat Top-10 teams - but we did.
This team, according to "experts", was never supposed to be this good - but they are.
I don't know what's going to happen in the next four games. We are still going to have plenty of opportunities to fall flat on our faces like we have in the past. But what I do know is we have a basketball team that is 22-5 right now.
Let that sink in. Let that soak into the deepest, darkest corners of your natural, born-and-bred Gamecock skepticism and, for now, let all of that worry go. Get lost in the fairy tale that is our basketball program in 2016. Savor these games, don't fear them. When was the last time we played a meaningful game in March? Can you even remember? We're about to play like five of them. And that's freaking amazing.
Please understand that I'm right there with you, worrisome Gamecocks everywhere. I get it, I really do. Everything you've taught yourself over the years says to be excited, but don't let yourself become too emotionally invested because another heartache would hurt too much.
It's time to kick that mentality to the curb.
It's time to lose yourself in Gamecock basketball hysteria. It's time to stop worrying about the bad things that could happen and start caring TOO much. It's time to expect to sweep these last four games. It's time to win the SEC, beat Kentucky, take the NCAA Tournament by storm and become the darlings of the nation.
Does any of that make any sense logically? Maybe not, but that hasn't stopped this team yet.
It's time to believe that anything is possible from here on out.
Enjoy the ride everybody - it's far from over.