No. 25 South Carolina started 15-0 and amounted to one of the biggest surprises in college basketball as of mid-January.
Despite the hot start, skeptics remained due to USC’s weak nonconference schedule. Since that undefeated run through Jan. 12, Frank Martin’s team is 4-3 and starting to show signs of weakness. The latest example came Tuesday night with a non-competitive road loss against Georgia. The Bulldogs are in the midst of an uphill season; the win improved the Dawgs to 12-8 and 5-4 in the average SEC.
The 69-56 victory is UGA’s first over a ranked team this season. Mark Fox needed that kind of outcome, and in fact, Georgia is well-positioned to be a spoiler in the league. It’s highly unlikely the Dawgs can rally to boost its NCAA Tournament résumé in the next five weeks, but they’ll be a tough out in a lot of games because they’ve got an experienced starting five.
For South Carolina, the loss isn’t too detrimental. But it is going to cause pause among the selection committee’s members, who will now be looking at this team closely and with a critical eye due to the mediocre slate of opponents Martin scheduled in November and December.
The Gamecocks shot just 32 percent on Tuesday night. Sindarius Thornwell, USC’s best player, had a solid night with 18 points and 11 boards. But he wasn’t lifted up by anyone else. Michael Carrera was the only other Gamecock to hit double figures in points. Georgia had four of its started score in double figures, led by Yante Maten’s 18.
Next up for USC is a road game at Texas A&M, the team that is atop the SEC’S standings. It’s a really tough ask to go into College Station and beat that team this season, but you know what? It’s a great opportunity for South Carolina to shock a lot of people. No better time to be scheduled this kind of chance to reverse course. Martin’s team will be playing with house money on Saturday in Texas. It’s going to be interesting to see how this team plays in a big spot with little to lose.