Talent Makes Gamecocks Dangerous Despite Misleading Record
By Kent Smith,
Road to meaningful game against Kentucky runs directly through South Carolina
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – While Arkansas and South Carolina will forever be linked together for coming into the SEC at the same and have relatively mirrored each other in football, there is little in common between the two programs when it comes to basketball.
Arkansas has been a borderline blue blood since the late 1970s having been to 12 Sweet 16s, eight Elite 8s, four Final Fours and two national championship games, including a national title over that time.
During that same span, the Gamecocks have only been to the NCAA Tournament five times, although there was a surprise Final Four run in 2017.
Google a little background information on the current Razorback basketball team and you can fill a full page and then some just from stories over the past 20 hours. Make the same type of search for South Carolina and you'll find news about North Carolina, the women's basketball team and stories written about other programs that mention the Gamecocks, but that's it.
That raises an important question. Is South Carolina basketball so bad that it's just not worth it for media outlets to use energy writing about it when Shane Beamer's boys are making news with the latest signing class?
The long and short of answering that question is yes and no.
Are the Gamecocks having a bad year? Absoluetely.
Are they a team so bad that Arkansas can just roll out the balls, flash a little swag from back-to-back Elite 8 appearances and expect South Carolina to spot them 30 points?
If anyone knows anything about this year's Gamecocks team it probably features the word Kentucky. It's their one claim to fame this year beyond technically winning the South Carolina college basketball championship with wins over Clemson, South Carolina Upstate, Presbyterian and South Carolina State.
It's not necessarily that South Carolina beat Kentucky that should make Arkansas wary of going into Columbia. It's why they were able to take down the Wildcats in Rupp Arena.
The Gamecocks are super talented. Forward Meechie Johnson is a 4-star who can light it up. He dropped 26 points on Kentucky in 35 minutes of play.
There's also forward Gregory "GG" Jackson II, a 5-star who gave the Razorbacks' Nick Smith, Jr. a run for his money as the nation's best player.
Jackson is averaging over 16 points and roughly seven rebounds per game. Considering Smith has barely been able to get on the floor for the Razorbacks, the edge now has to go to Jackson in a recruiting re-evaluation.
If the Gamecocks can get solid production out of Hayden Brown, a forward who has been playing college basketball since 2017, they're a threat to pull the upset.
If it were the second week of January, this game might even be a pick 'em in local gambling establishments.
However, much like the LSU win over Arkansas, the South Carolina win over Kentucky appears to have been a bit of an aberration.
There are the 40+ point losses to Texas A&M and Tennessee, plus a 21-point loss to Florida. That's a third of their SEC games lost by an average of 35 points.
But if you're going to look at the bad, you've got to account for the good also. In addition to beating Kentucky on the road, South Carolina took both Vanderbilt and Georgia to overtime on the road also.
If there's one bit of solace for Arkansas fans, it's that this game is taking place in South Carolina instead of Bud Walton. While the Gamecocks play fairly well on the road in league play, they have lost their five home games by a total of 126 points.
That's a 25-point loss average per game at home. As renowned as South Carolina fans are for bringing energy no matter how down their teams have gotten over the years, that many blowouts in a row will kill the atmosphere of even the most dedicated fan bases.
At eight wins, the rest of the season is about getting ready for the SEC Tournament and a wing and a prayer run at the NCAA Tournament.
However, for Arkansas, everything is on the line.
Arkansas has something to prove and play for that should make them hungry to do what it takes to get the win, but South Carolina can play loose, avoiding the pressure currently resting on the shoulders of this Razorback team.
A win will drag Arkansas up out of the loser's side of the conference at 5-5 and will also put them within reasonable striking distance of the 20+ wins that will be needed to make the NCAA Tournament.
As for the Gamecocks, an upset of the Razorbacks will mean potentially leaving LSU and Ole Miss to fight it out all alone in the SEC cellar while opening a potential path out of the Day 1 Wednesday slot of the conference tournament.
An Arkansas win over South Carolina also sets up a high profile primetime showdown in Rupp Arena on ESPN.
Or, as the Gamecocks can put it – been there, done that.
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