Which is more surprising: that South Carolina is this good or that Vanderbilt is this mediocre?
Frank Martin’s Gamecocks did what they were supposed to on Saturday afternoon, getting a 69-65 home win over 8-7 Vanderbilt. USC is now 15-0, and remains among the biggest wonders in the sport this season. It wasn’t even a given that the Gamecocks, who won 17 games last season, would even get to 17 total this season.
Yet here they are, slowly but surely entering the conversation as the SEC’s best team. It’s probably going to take a win over Kentucky (the teams only have one meeting this season, and that will come on Feb. 13 in Columbia, S.C.) to really convince the masses that South Carolina is legitimately a national contender.
But whatever, for now, this team is certainly top-20-in-the-nation good, and in getting a 69-65 home victory over the ‘Dores, it reminded college hoops fans of just that. The Gamecocks don’t have a brutal strength of schedule, but they do keep winning nonetheless. It’s not like this team has to be a Final Four contender or a fraud to this point. It can simply be pretty good — with a few honest, lingering questions.
For Vandy, this was its first game in weeks at full strength. Luke Kornet was back from injury, yet went 2-for-9. Despite a height advantage, the Commodores shot 33 percent from the field. It was hamstrung late when Damian Jones, a guy who will be drafted in the first round when he heads to the NBA, picked up his fifth with 6:35 to go in a three-point game.
The Commodores were a preseason top 25 team and now they’re not even on pace to make the NIT. (I have said this before, yes, about another certain SEC team.) Vandy is 0-6 against the six highest-rated teams it’s faced this season. So with all this talent, what gives? If something drastic doesn’t change, the program will miss its fourth straight NCAA Tournament.