It took South Carolina basketball coach Dawn Staley less than two weeks to shift the narrative around her team.
Labeled as a “rebuilding team” for much of this offseason after losing 7 of their top-11 players to the WNBA Draft, graduation, and the transfer portal, the Gamecocks were projected by many “experts” to be a good team that couldn’t hang with the real contenders in the 2023-2024 season.
Beatdowns over top-10 Notre Dame and top-15 Maryland showed the college basketball world that the hot takes about the Gamecocks were massive overreactions. The AP poll corrected its initial mistake, moving USC up from #6 to #1 after the season’s first week, and one can argue the Gamecocks have been even better since being elevated to the top spot.
Coach Staley’s team smacked the in-state Clemson Tigers 109-40, despite the fact that the team from the Upstate is a much-improved program.
Then, while missing injured two guards, Carolina beat by 40 points a good South Dakota State team that has won at least a share of its conference title the last six seasons and made it to the second round of last season’s NCAA Tournament.
Their most recent time on the court, the South Carolina basketball team made history with a 101-19 demolition of the Mississippi Valley State Devilettes. The 82-point margin of victory and 19 points allowed were both program records, and USC’s 4th 100-point game in their first 5 contests is also an all-time best.
Next up on the schedule is the North Carolina Tar Heels.
A ranked team with a potentially loaded incoming recruiting class, UNC dropped both of their games in the Gulf Coast Showcase in Florida during Thanksgiving week. The losses dropped the “other Carolina” all the way down to 24th in the latest AP poll.
Returning to Chapel Hill will be a benefit to the Tar Heels as, dating back to last season, Courtney Banghart’s squad has won 5 in a row and 12 of 13 in Chapel Hill.
UNC has not faced anything quite like the South Carolina basketball team that will step into Carmichael Arena later this week. The Gamecocks, meanwhile, have played two teams of similar quality to the ‘Heels (Notre Dame and Maryland) and two more who aren’t that far behind (Clemson and South Dakota State).
The game against USC couldn’t come at a worse time for North Carolina. If things go as expected, they will be riding a 3-game losing streak before playing a good UNC-Greensboro team and then traveling to Connecticut to take on the UConn Huskies.
Dawn Staley’s South Carolina basketball team has a chance to unravel their border rival’s season before it can really get started, and there is no reason to expect that Kamilla Cardoso, MiLaysia Fulwiley, Raven Johnson, Te-Hina Paopao, and company won’t pin an embarrassing loss on UNC later this week.
The Battle of the Carolinas will take place on Thursday at 7:00 and will be broadcast on ESPN and the ESPN app.
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