Game #9-119: Elon at South Carolina GamecocksNovember 21, 2012 7:00 pm
There are not usually many college basketball games played on the day before Thanksgiving. But on this Wednesday before Thanksgiving, there would be a game near me with South Carolina taking on Elon. This was not however really much of a guarantee game, despite the conference affiliations of the schools involved here. Given the current state of South Carolina basketball, just about any game is a potential Red Line Upset. Elon is not one of the better teams in the Southern Conference, but that really did not matter tonight. Last season, the Gamecocks were as part of a 2 for 1 deal visited Elon's tiny gym. And the Gamecocks would lose 58-53. So this would be a competitive game at Colonial Life Arena tonight.
South Carolina Gamecock basketball is bad. In my lifetime, three schools from the state of South Carolina have won a NCAA Tournament game: Clemson, College of Charleston, and Winthrop. South Carolina on the other hand last won a NCAA Tournament game in 1973. Many high quality mid-major teams have a more storied recent history than the Gamecocks do. The problems with the basketball program at USC most likely stem back from when the school left the ACC in 1971. The reason for this move was due to unhappiness coming from the North Carolina schools politically dominating the conference. As we know in Our Game, your conference defines who you are. And while being an independent was not as big of a drawback as it is today, it still restricted the school's athletic potential. The school struggled athletically in the 1970s as an independent and then again in the 1980s in the Metro Conference (the predecessor to Conference USA). The school finally was able to get a conference affiliation in 1991 that would provide the Gamecocks with a boost in the SEC. But the SEC does not provide as much of a boost for basketball. USC did have a couple years where they had a high seed in the late 1990s in the NCAA Tournament, only to lose to a MEAC team in Coppin State in 1997 and then to a then-Colonial team in Richmond in 1998. The basketball program has never recovered, as Gamecock fans have become more invested in the surge of a once woeful football program and the surge of the baseball program in to a national powerhouse. But Gamecock basketball has never been able to bring in the recruits that you associate with a school above the Red Line, and has never been able to reach the upper echelon of the SEC. And the SEC is often the weakest BCS conference in basketball. There are times that I wonder if South Carolina should be considered an honorary mid-major.
But the Gamecocks, even with a dreadful basketball program, have way more financial advantages over the schools below the Red Line. USC has the 15th highest athletic budget in the country and spends twice as much on sports as BYU (the highest athletic budget of schools below the Red Line). South Carolina ranks 13th in football spending and leads the nation in baseball spending. But the Gamecocks are only 60th in basketball spending. That is still quite a lot relatively, with only three mid-majors spending more on men's basketball than USC. One of those mid-majors has been above the Red Line for most of this site's history (BYU) with another having been exempted from mid-major status until this year (Gonzaga). The only school that spends more on men's basketball that has been considered a mid-major for this site's entire history is Creighton. South Carolina both in basketball and for all sports spends over four times as much as Elon. And as bad as Gamecock basketball is, USC was able to build a modern professional-like 18,000 seat arena ten years ago. Few mid-majors aside from a few notables like Creighton have a facility like Colonial Life Arena. Elon plays in an arena less than a tenth the size of the one they were at tonight. The Gamecock baseball team has won two national titles in baseball recently. Mid-majors generally do not win national championships in any sport, although both UC Santa Barbara and Akron have won national titles recently in soccer and Cal State Fullerton is a national power in baseball as well. So South Carolina has no real legitimate excuse for not having a good basketball team, and is definitely not a mid-major.
And the financial advantage South Carolina has allows them to act like any school above the Red Line even if the results are not the same. I mentioned last year that many mid-major coaches often make a career mistake
by taking more money at a power conference school where success is hard to come by. Darrin Horn had been modestly successful at Western Kentucky, and when things worked out for the Hilltoppers Horn took them to the Sweet 16. Horn then left for USC, and after making the NIT his first year the school gave him a large contract extension. Not many mid-majors can afford to give a coach a large contract extension after a NIT appearance. And even fewer mid-majors can then afford to three years later fire that same coach with a 2.7 million dollar buyout. The University of South Carolina in doing so showed why they and the SEC are part of the sports bubble. State government agencies in South Carolina cannot afford to hire new employees, but USC can afford to pay a basketball coach 2.7 million dollars to leave and then spend even more money to lure another coach from the Big 12. While mid-majors do replace coaches like anybody else, this spending spree only happens above the Red Line.
And yet I was still slightly rooting for South Carolina. I have a Master's degree from USC, and grew up with Gamecock sports. But I also have respect for mid-majors, having attended High Point which has had a rivalry with the Phoenix in the past. I knew that while it would be nice to see the Gamecocks improve like they did on Monday against Rider
, it would be a bigger win for the Southern Conference team here. Typically I am pretty down on the Gamecocks' chances of doing well in a particular game. But I felt that with a new coach this year and the game being in Columbia that the Gamecocks would be better prepared this time to avoid the Red Line Upset.
But when the game started, I could see that things really had not changed from last year. After shooting well two days prior, the Gamecocks went back to struggling on offense. And I also noticed from having seen Elon a few times last year they still had much of the same players. Most notable of these returning Phoenix players was Lucas Troutman, who gave Elon size down low. It is not very typical to see a mid-major give a school above the Red Line trouble in the post. Typically in recruiting, quality big men are the first players to get snapped up by the big programs. But relative to the SEC, South Carolina is not a big program. And the Gamecocks had two forwards leave school when Horn was fired, with a freshman forward on this year's team out with an injury. Troutman was able to go up strong without a reliable big man to guard him.
Elon led 28-15 at the final media timeout of the first half. And even though USC cut their deficit to eight by halftime, I did not see how the Gamecocks could avoid the RLU here. USC will always have the financial edge over Elon in all sports, but that did not mater here. None of the basketball advantages you see teams above the Red Line have were present for South Carolina. The Gamecocks could not defend well; they did not have a size advantage or an advantage in the depth coming off the bench. I could see that with the bad start that the small crowd at Colonial Life Arena would not push the home team back. South Carolina has all of the edges a school above the Red Line has, except for the elements that produce a winning basketball team. Like I did in the Tennessee State game last year
, I gave up in hoping for a comeback and just accepted that all Red Line Upsets are good. And Elon would easily enough get the sixth RLU I had seen within a week of Thanksgiving by a final score of 65-53.
It remains to be seen whether new Gamecock coach Frank Martin can take advantage of the resources that USC has to offer above the Red Line. It is fairly typical for coaches on both sides of the Red Line to struggle, especially when taking over a struggling program. Martin could succeed. But he might not, especially if more of USC's vast supply of money is distributed to football and baseball. I remember one time Kyle in a TMM chat referring to what goes on above the Red Line as "trying to not lose to Wofford and the coach trying to not get fired". That is what it is like for South Carolina. And there are a few dedicated basketball fans at South Carolina like at anyplace. They have to deal with this hard reality of life above the Red Line when it does not go well, which is not fun. Elon would then go on to lose to a struggling VMI team over the weekend. So this Red Line Upset could just be a footnote to what happens for both teams this season. Or it could be that all of the advantages one has in the world do not matter if they are not used correctly. That may not be the case for South Carolina in all sports, but it has certainly been true lately for basketball. ELON 65, at SOUTH CAROLINA 53
ELON 4-1 (0-0) -- L. Troutman 7-11 1-2 15; J. Isenbarger 4-14 2-2 13; T. Samson 2-3 2-2 7; A. Hamilton 6-10 0-3 13; S. Koch 3-10 0-2 9; R. Winters 0-0 0-0 0; R. Beaumont 1-4 0-0 2; E. Edomwonyi 2-2 0-0 4; T. Sabato 1-1 0-0 2; K. Blake 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 26-57 5-11 65.
SOUTH CAROLINA 3-1 (0-0) -- L. Jackson 7-13 0-1 14; B. Richardson 2-12 2-2 7; M. Kacinas 1-2 1-2 3; R. Slawson 2-4 3-4 7; B. Williams 2-6 4-6 9; L. Page 1-8 1-2 4; E. Smith 1-5 0-0 3; D. Leonard 2-6 0-0 6. Totals 18-56 11-17 53.
Three-point goals: ELON 8-15 (J. Isenbarger 3-5; S. Koch 3-7; A. Hamilton 1-1; T. Samson 1-2), SC 6-19 (L. Page 1-4; B. Richardson 1-6; E. Smith 1-1; D. Leonard 2-5; B. Williams 1-3); Rebounds: ELON 26 (S. Koch 7), SC 40 (L. Jackson 10); Assists: ELON 13 (S. Koch 5), SC 10 (B. Richardson 4); Total Fouls -- ELON 19, SC 16; Fouled Out: ELON-R. Winters; SC-None.