Due to the structure of the NCAA, NIT and conference tournament system the vast majority of college basketball teams naturally end their season with a loss. Many fans lament that final heartbreaking game, wishing that their team could have made it a couple more rounds in post-season play, perhaps even riding an unexpected but memorable run to the sweet 16 with a little luck.
But for Gamecock fans the end of the 2012-2013 USC men’s basketball season is actually a welcome occurance, and not simply because the team was so bad and we no longer have to suffer through watching them struggle on the court. Rather, the end of this season finally allows coach Frank Martin to shift his focus away from the pressure of weekly preparation to win against specific opponents and to instead concentrate on what really needs to be done: rebuilding the program itself from the ground up.
No one expected much out of this year’s team anyway, so the earlier he can put his energy toward brightening the big picture for next year, the better. While a win or two in the SEC tourney or an NIT bid may have made a few fans feel a little better about this season, neither would really erase the pain or move the team up much, and at this point would only delay Martin further in getting around to what’s important. Frankly, I’ll take the promise of a better tomorrow over a repositioning of this year’s team from “bad” to “mediocre.” This season is over, and for the better.
That said, there are some promising things to take away from Martin’s inaugural year here. Where former coach Darrin Horn had the team in declining mode, Martin finally stopped the fall, performing at about the same level as last year’s team with arguably less talent. Things could have been much worse but were not, indicating that a true turnaround is actually possible now. You have to hit the brakes before you can put your foot on the gas, and he has done this.
It’s even arguable that this team got better as the season progressed, or at least a few individuals on the squad did, such as junior guard Brenton Williams who seemingly gained loads of confidence in the final weeks culminating in a 38 point performance against Mississippi State in the final home game. He didn’t produce nearly as well in his next two games, but to see players finally beginning to take it to the hoop aggressively at all was certainly a welcome and promising change.
Anyone who has actually listened to coach Martin must also see the sensibility in his coaching philosophy and realize that it takes a special player to commit to his level of expectation. Simply put, much of his inherited talent does not fit within his system, and so each of the next two years should offer automatic improvement simply based on the recruitment of players who understand him.
Finally, the end of the season is a good thing for another reason, in that it will stop the griping from those fans who don’t “get it” themselves. If you’ve followed USC basketball for more than one year it’s pretty easy to appreciate Martin despite the team’s record. If you don’t, well, it is baseball season after all. Go check out coach Holbrook and let Martin take care of his business.