Originally created 02/25/97

USC up; Clemson is 12th



You might have suspected it was coming for a couple of weeks, but Monday made it official: South Carolina surpassed Clemson in the latest rankings.

The Gamecocks (21-6) beat Arkansas, The Citadel and Tennessee last week to move up three spots to No. 6. The Tigers (20-7) fell at Duke and at home Sunday against Florida State to drop four notches to No. 12.

The College of Charleston improved from No. 22 to 20th after extending its best-in-the-nation win streak to 19.

This is the third straight week the Palmetto State has had three teams ranked in the top 25.

While South Carolina has steadily climbed since entering the polls this month, Clemson has zigzagged its way down from an all-time high No. 2 spot on Jan. 20.

"We've done very well since the beginning of the year, that's January 1997," South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler said Monday.

In December, the Gamecocks fumbled through a 1-4 stretch that included losses to North Carolina Asheville, Charleston Southern and Clemson, 58-39, all at home. That left them 5-5 and had the players questioning the team's makeup.

The Tigers ran off 12 straight victories that took them to a 16-1 start and the pages of The New York Times and Sports Illustrated.

Fans called Fogler's radio show before Christmas wondering how the Gamecocks could be 19 points worse than their arch-rivals and how Clemson's Rick Barnes in a year's less time could be so much better.

Barnes got the kind of treatment Clemson reserves for a winning football coach - celebrated and cheered for making his team competitive in the basketball intensive Atlantic Coast Conference.

Just take a look now. South Carolina has won 16 of its past 17 games and, at 13-1 in the Southeastern Conference, can wrap up the league title with wins against Vanderbilt and No. 3 Kentucky this week.

Clemson has gone 4-6 since its standout start and has fallen to fifth in the ACC.

"I'd rather hit the wall and go into a funk right now than in a week to 10 days," Barnes said. "We've got a week to work out of it before it really counts."

Fogler did not panic when his team faltered, running the same guard-dominated offense. Larry Davis, Melvin Watson and BJ McKie have averaged close to 50 points a game.

Along with major inside contributions from Ryan Stack, William Gallman and Nate Wilbourne, the trio has led the Gamecocks to wins over Kentucky, Cincinnati and Arkansas in the past month.

"Our team knows we're ranked in the top 10," Fogler said. "Yet our team understands we take them one at a time."

Barnes says Clemson's problems come from the league it's in. Of the Tigers' losses, only two (North Carolina State and Florida State) have been to teams not ranked in the top 10.

Barnes says he's ready to tell his team that something good is getting set to happen.

"Anyway, we're in a whole lot better position this year than a year ago," he said. The Tigers needed a first-round ACC tournament win over North Carolina to secure an NCAA tournament bid.

The College of Charleston has muscled through its Trans America Athletic Conference schedule undefeated (16-0) for the first time. The Cougars will play host to the league tournament beginning Thursday.

Charleston coach John Kresse says his Cougars have done all they can to impress the NCAA selection committee. Now, he says, they have to finish strong and take the conference's automatic bid.