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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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College basketball winners and losers: South Carolina surges while Memphis slides

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Graduate F/C Wildens Leveque (10) competes with Memphis F Nicholas Jourdain (2) for the jump ball during Texas A&M’s game against Memphis on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023 at Reed Arena. (CJ Smith/The Battalion)

Winner: South Carolina’s turnaround season

I can admit when I’m wrong. This writer didn’t pick South Carolina to take down No. 6 Kentucky this week, but boy, did they make a statement. The Gamecocks defeated the Wildcats 79-62, limiting the country’s top offense to 29 points below its average. South Carolina followed it up with a victory over Missouri to avoid any sort of hangover effect.

Now 17-3 overall with a 5-2 mark in the SEC, the Gamecocks have engineered one of college basketball’s biggest turnaround campaigns. Coach Lamont Paris hardly received a warm welcome to the conference a season ago, as the team finished 11-21 and 4-14 in league action. This time around, he’s the frontrunner for SEC Coach of the Year.

This isn’t to say the road will get any easier. South Carolina opens its week on Tuesday, Jan. 30 with a road trip to Knoxville, Tennessee. After battling the Volunteers, the Gamecocks will face another upstart program in Georgia. With newfound confidence, South Carolina likely won’t see the games as challenges, but rather opportunities to prove itself further.

Loser: Baylor’s heartbreaking week

Losing three games in a row is tough. Want to know what’s tougher? Dropping each game by 4 points or less. Such describes the past week and a half for Baylor. Dating back to Jan. 16, the Bears have fallen to Kansas State and Texas on the road before being defeated by TCU in triple overtime at home.

The headache of a three-game stretch began when the Wildcats scored 9 unanswered points in the final 62 seconds of overtime. Later, Baylor fell to Texas 75-73 as the Longhorns hit a buzzer-beating floater to grab the win. Despite a bye week and a return to their glitzy Foster Pavilion, the Bears couldn’t keep up with the Horned Frogs in a 105-102 defeat.

This is life in the Big 12, a conference boasting 10 of its 14 teams in the top 50 of the NET rankings. This week, Baylor will be in need of some sunshine as it takes on UCF in Orlando, Florida before welcoming Iowa State to Waco. It’s easy to fall into a slump in the nation’s top conference, and the Bears need to right the ship before it’s too late.

Winner: A healthy New Mexico (and the rest of the Mountain West)

A weak non-conference slate and early-season injuries kept expectations measured for New Mexico through the fall. But now? It’s late January, the injury bug has passed and the Lobos have rattled off a streak of five-straight wins and are second in the Mountain West standings in a year that might be the deepest the conference has been — ever.

Colorado State and Utah State both join the Lobos in the AP Poll, while Nevada, Boise State and last year’s NCAA Tournament runner-up San Diego State all have genuine arguments for an at-large bid.

The conference set its record for bids to the Big Dance in 2013, with five schools making the cut. New Mexico was one of the five, and was then in the middle of a streak of four tournament appearances in five years that ended a decade ago. The Lobos haven’t been dancing since — until now. Anything can happen, but given the year this conference has had, it’s hard to see how this New Mexico squad gets left out of the field on Selection Sunday.

Loser: People who think Memphis isn’t a mid-major

Plenty of the Tiger faithful have argued, due to their hoops history, Memphis should not be considering a mid-major like their conference-mates in the American Athletic Conference.

That argument is hard to make when the Tigers currently sit sixth in the AAC standings at 4-3 and have dropped three-straight games to the likes of South Florida, Tulane and UAB. Those four games Memphis has won? Only one was more than a one-possession game when the regulation buzzer sounded, and it took the Tigers overtime to beat lowly UTSA.

Memphis is still a good team, and this isn’t a bad season overall. But when you’ve got a fanbase that thinks they’re Gonzaga, they won’t be satisfied with sixth in the AAC. They want trophies and banners, and it remains to be seen if Penny Hardaway is the head man to take them back to the promised land.

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About the Contributors
Luke White
Luke White, Sports Editor
Luke White is a junior telecommunication media studies major and sport management minor from Round Rock, Texas. He has served as head sports editor since May 2023.
Ian Curtis
Ian Curtis, Sports Reporter
Ian Curtis is a journalism freshman from College Station, Texas. Ian has written about football, men's basketball, women's basketball, baseball, hockey, gymnastics, volleyball and more for The Battalion. Ian's work has also appeared in The Bryan-College Station Eagle and over the airwaves on WTAW and BCSball.com. 
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