The South Carolina Gamecocks made the Final Four last year — and they went through the Florida Gators to do it.
This year, the Gamecocks squad that comes to the O’Connell Center on Wednesday night (7 p.m., SEC Network) for a Superhero Night matchup does so as a nearly completely different team.
Gone from that team are do-everything tweener Sindarius Thornwell, a constant thorn for Florida; shooter Duane Notice, similarly nettlesome; and even sophomore wing P.J. Dozier, who went pro, and freshman Rakym Felder, who has spent this year in limbo, suspended and not enrolled for the fall semester after an arrest for a bar fight and now being kept sidelined for the remainder of the season. The major contributors who are back are Chris Silva, an erratic but talented post player, and Maik Kotsay, who had 12 points in South Carolina’s Elite Eight win over the Gators.
Teaming them with some decent freshmen and a slew of transfers hasn’t really paid off as of yet.
Frank Martin’s team is 12-7 and 3-4 in SEC play, and would be on the outside of the NCAA Tournament looking in if selections were being made today. A home win over Kentucky last week was the Gamecocks’ best of the season, but they followed it up with a home loss to Tennessee in which South Carolina’s only lead was 1-0 and a chance to win at the end was thwarted by an offense that scored just four points in the final five minutes of action.
Silva is the fulcrum for these Gamecocks, and when he’s good, they can be, too. Apart from Silva being maybe the nation’s best player when it comes to drawing fouls, though, it’s hard to point at anything South Carolina does well on offense.
And the Gamecocks’ defense, while smothering, depends on forcing turnovers and denying offensive boards, things that Florida is well-equipped to deal with.
And Florida is at home in Gainesville — where South Carolina will try for just its fourth win away from Columbia this year.
This won’t be quite like an Elite Eight rematch. And it will probably go the other way.