CAROLINA BASKETBALL: Gamecocks are a team 'nobody wants to play'

CAROLINA BASKETBALL: Gamecocks are a team 'nobody wants to play'

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COLUMBIA – There are times, in the heat of the moment, coaches can misspeak in their postgame press conferences.

After a four-point win against South Carolina in Starkville two weeks ago, Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said playing Frank Martin’s team is like getting a root canal. Tuesday, after losing to the Gamecocks in Columbia, Howland took some time to change his answer.

“That really doesn’t do it justice; playing his team is like getting a dental implant,” he said. “They’re drilling right into your skull while you’re awake. That’s about what it’s like playing against his teams.”

Howland’s team caught the sharp end of a dental tool, figuratively speaking, against the Gamecocks, dropping the game at Colonial Life Arena by a 83-71 score.

In the short term, the win gives the Gamecocks (18-12, 10-7 SEC) the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Bulldogs for the SEC Tournament. In the bigger picture, the victory adds a Quad II win to a tournament resume South Carolina is desperately trying to maintain as the regular season ends.

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With one game to play, the Gamecocks are tied with Mississippi State at 10-7, good for fifth in the SEC, and jumped nine spots in the KenPom rankings, the closest metric to the NET.

It’s not a perfect system, but there could be a scenario where the Gamecocks -- who entered at No. 65 — move into the low 50s after the win.

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“The NET has some definite flaws to it. How you’re playing late is huge. Unfortunately for us, our league, compared to the last two years, doesn’t have as many highly rated teams,” Howland said. “I guarantee nobody, the way they’re playing, wants to play them. They were really good tonight.”

Using the NET rankings as of Tuesday morning, the Gamecocks are a combined 7-10 against Quad I and II teams and notched another win against Mississippi State, which will be firmly a Quad II the rest of the season.

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The only real blemishes on the tournament resume are a loss to Boston (NET No. 157) and Stetson (NET No. 305). Since losing to Stetson, the Gamecocks are 12-6 and are 6-4 over their last 10.

“I think our league is so good. I think it’s so tough. One through 14, it’s the best league. I hate how they do it now. They don’t look at lately,” Howland said. “It used to be a decade ago how you’re playing the last 15 games. It really mattered. Now everything is based on November. So does that really generate the best at-large bids at the end of the season?”

The Gamecocks face Vanderbilt Saturday on the road before the SEC tournament.

As they prepare for the final game before postseason play, Martin is working on getting his dentist chops down pat.

“That is a compliment from Ben,” Martin said. “I had all four of my wisdom teeth pulled at once. Two days later I had to go play golf because I committed to an event and I had to go recruiting that night. I developed dry socket.

"I was in a Courtyard Marriott staring at the ceiling all night. It’s the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced. I’ve had pain in my life, but that one got me. If playing us hurts that bad, we need to keep playing that way.”

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