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South Carolina Basketball: Leadership key to maintaining course to NCAA Tournament

After last night’s loss, the seniors must step up to keep the Gamecocks from sliding

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at South Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

It appears that South Carolina’s push for the regular season SEC championship may be out of reach, barring slight breakdowns by Florida and Kentucky. After last night’s loss, they are a full game back from a first place tie, and need to turn things around for fear of losing their grip on a top six seed.

Last season, South Carolina got off to a blazing 18-0 start, and later had a 6-2 SEC record, all but guaranteeing an NCAA tournament bid. But that season, whether it was the pressure of league play or the potential prospect of the NCAA tournament, that record slipped away. The team stumbled to a 5-5 SEC record down the stretch, and missed the tournament altogether despite posting the best record in South Carolina history. While it is unlikely at this point for South Carolina to miss the tournament, it is the duty of the seniors to step up both on and off the court and help guide this team through the rest of the season so they can get back to their winning ways come March.

It goes without saying that Sindarius Thornwell is the heartbeat of this team. He leads the team in points, rebounds, assists, and steals, an unbelievable feat in itself. However, a team should never lose a game when their star player scores 44 points and grabs 22 boards. That’s a clear sign that the people around him simply aren’t getting it done, on both ends of the court as well. The three-point defense has been atrocious over the last few games, and the NCAA’s top defense for most of the season should not be allowing role players to double or even triple their scoring averages. Also, consistency in scoring, whether it is shooting or facilitating, has been a major concern this season. Thornwell has had to assume too much of the offense the past few games, and that will not equivalent into success later. For example, just look at Kemba Walker for the Hornets: a player with the ability to score thirty or forty points in a game but should not be asked to do that every game. As a result, the Hornets have struggled when another player hasn’t stepped up to assume part of the offensive burden consistently. Whether it is Notice, Dozier, or somebody else, there has to be a player who steps up every night to assist Thornwell in carrying the load.

“Leadership, that’s where it starts at,” Coach Frank Martin said on Monday. “If you don’t have that it’s hard to stay in the moment.” It will prove vital for the seniors on this team to coach the younger guys, especially Kotsar and Silva, to avoid foul trouble and be consistent on the glass. If not, this season has the potential to fall apart before the very eyes of even the most weathered Carolina fans.

Something has to change if this team wants to hold onto a tournament bid, and just like Coach Martin said, it starts and ends with leadership.