I’m not going to say that Frank Martin and South Carolina have been the biggest disappointment in the SEC this season. That would be like calling last week’s episode of the Walking Dead the most disappointing in a season full of disappointing episodes. But I will say that in his first season at South Carolina, I expected (and hoped for) more from Frank Martin. When Martin made the switch from Kansas State to the SEC, I hoped that he would at the very least ignite a spark to an otherwise bland South Carolina basketball program. He might not be able to achieve impressive numerical success with a ton of wins, but at least South Carolina would bring some excitement to the table.
Last year, South Carolina finished the season 10-21 overall, with a 2-14 mark in SEC play. Make no mistake, Frank Martin took over a program in a bad place. Martin inherited a team with 2 returning starters in Bruce Ellington (29.0 mpg) and Damien Leonard (21.0 mpg). On the flip side, five other returning players averaged between 12.4 mpg and 17.8 mpg. In his first season at the helm of the program, the Gamecocks finished a dismal 14-18. South Carolina only won 4 SEC games, while dropping 14. South Carolina was awful on the road, finishing the season 1-9. The Gamecocks weren’t overwhelmingly strong at home either, finishing 10-8.
Frank Martin has already publicly blasted his team on one occasion this season in mid-February. The team was 12-12 at the time. For those keeping track at home, the Gamecocks did not respond in any way to Martin’s crushing, finishing the rest of the season with a 2-6 record. Martin made many memorable and negative comments about his team on that day. Here are a few of the highlights to refresh your memory:
“If you take Bruce Ellington off our team, you’d probably have the 12 leading candidates for the Return of the Living Dead.”
“We lead the country in airball lay-ups. Guys can’t make lay-ups, it’s hard to win.”
“If this were the NBA, we’d fine them, we’d take their money, we’d release them, and say ‘Good luck ever finding another job.’ It’s not the NBA. We’re an education, so somehow, someway we have to reach them. But it’s embarrassing.”
When Martin spoke after last night’s 70-59 loss to Mississippi State in the opening round of the SEC tournament, the words weren’t necessarily any kinder. When asked what he takes from the 2012-2013 season, he responded, “A big bottle of Pepto Bismol.” Martin was clearly coaching a team who had quit on him long ago. When asked if he saw the same enthusiasm out of his guys as he saw from Mississippi State’s players, he simply answered with a stone face, “No.”
Frank Martin’s starting point with South Carolina was less than ideal, but no one had a tougher task in season #1 with his new team than Mississippi State’s Rick Ray. While Martin finished the season last night with a team that looked ready to be done with it all, Ray took over a team with an even worse starting point, coupled with a season marred with injuries and roster attrition– and managed to instill a sense of pride and fight in his team down the stretch.
“I’m really happy for our players,” gushed Rick Ray after last night’s win over South Carolina (Mississippi State’s first opening round SEC tournament win in 3 years) “They’ve been through a lot this season and for them for them to come down here to Nashville and the SEC tournament and experience some success and just grind it out and get that win.”
“I am just happy for these kids that they are just out competing on the court.”
To listen to his players speak would tell a similar story of a team with the cards stacked against them, continuing to fight for one another and their new head coach. “We’re not a team that is going to give up.” Even in MSU’s 30-point drubbing in Rupp Arena, the team showed resolve and played hard until the final whistle, despite being vastly out-matched.
“Rick Ray has done as good a job as any 1st-year coach has ever done,” Frank Martin said after last night’s game.
The Bulldogs aren’t likely to do much against Tennessee in this afternoon’s second round SEC tournament game. Regardless of how they finish, Rick Ray took an even worse situation than the one Frank Martin faced, and managed to build some semblance of positive momentum heading into the off-season. Martin and South Carolina? They lost to a 10-21 Mississippi State team down to 6 scholarship players (yes, they lost another scholarship player to injury since the Kentucky game) .
I didn’t expect much, but I expected a little more, Frank Martin.