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A lack of interior depth could be South Carolina’s undoing

After almost breaking through last year, Frank Martin is looking to go dancing for the first time in Columbia. Previewing the #6 South Carolina Gamecocks.

USC Preview

#6 South Carolina Gamecocks

Last Season: 25-9 (11-7) #61 in KenPom

My Prediction: 10 - 8 (6th in conference)

Garnet & Black Attack’s Prediction: 14 - 4 (2nd in conference)

The Masses Prediction: 8.7 - 9.3 (7th in conference)

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

HEAD COACH: Frank Martin | Fifth season 70 - 62

Last season South Carolina’s near meteoric rise was a surprise to many of the preseason prognosticators. I feel like it was me and some Gamecock fans who thought Frank Martin and company might be pretty good. Both Garnett & Black Attack and I predicted an 11-7 record in conference while the rest of the SEC figured the ‘cocks would end up around 7-11. The roster rebuild wasn’t quite complete, but there was experience and enough talent for the Gamecocks to finally get to the NCAA tournament if things went well, and they were a probably just a loss at Missouri from getting a tourney bid. You have to trust at this point that a Frank Martin team will be a tough physical team, that may have trouble shooting the ball. His ability to turn the heat up on his players has come under scrutiny, but his players always play hard. The ones who stick around also adore him. His fiery temper usually gets him in trouble from an outsider's view, but you rarely see his own players rejecting it because they know where he is coming from.

South Carolina 10 year look

If you’re trying to figure out the last time the Gamecocks played in the NCAA tournament, you’d have to go back to a first round loss in 2004 under Dave Odom. There were four more seasons under Odom, four additional seasons under Darrin Horn, and now four seasons under Frank Martin with no trips to the tournament. If South Carolina is gonna end this streak, the 2017 version is the first team in a while with a realistic shot.

WHO’S GONE

name reason GP %min %pts %ov
Michael Carrera Graduated 32 .648 .179 .127
Laimonas Chatkevicius Graduated 34 .548 .134 .081
Mindaugas Kacinas Graduated 34 .726 .130 .099
Marcus Stroman Transfer 29 .313 .026 .050
Eric Cobb Transfer 24 .107 .010 .002
Jamall Gregory Transfer 20 .097 .013 .019
Raymond Doby Transfer 16 .078 .011 .008
34 .503 .504 .388

Frank Martin finally had the breakthrough he was looking for and it was much thanks to his first class of recruits to land in Columbia. One of his first was Michael Carrera, and from the getgo you could see Carrera and Martin was a match made in heaven. Carrera steadily got better over the years and became a key cog in the rise of South Carolina basketball. Mindaugas Kacinas was never going to blow you away with his numbers, but he was a steady quality interior player all four years. You can say the same for Laimonas Chatkeviscious, but he turned into a more effective low block player. None of the trio of Eric Cobb, Jamall Gregory or Raymond Doby factored much into the minutes so they won’t be terribly missed. But Marcus Stroman chipped in about 15 minutes a contest but had taken a back seat on the perimeter to PJ Dozier.

WHO’S BACK?

name year pos GP %min %pts %ov
Sindarius Thornwell senior cg 34 .821 .176 .262
Duane Notice senior cg 34 .682 .141 .178
P.J. Dozier sophomore cg 34 .472 .088 .107
Chris Silva sophomore post 32 .310 .067 .026
Justin McKie junior cg 27 .158 .015 .034
TeMarcus Blanton sophomore wing 8 .023 .004 .004
John Ragin sophomre cg 8 .005 .001 .001
Jarrell Holliman junior cf 9 .006 .000 .000
34 .503 .495 .611
NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at South Carolina
Sindarius Thornwell needs to have his finest season to date.
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Sindarius Thornwell | SENIOR | COMBO GUARD

The leading scorer from a year ago, Sindarius Thornwell turned the corner on being one of the better players in the SEC. He was a highly ranked 4-star recruit who was Frank Martin’s first big recruiting coup and has had a big role in remaking the Gamecocks program since he joined the team three years ago. He’s not a great shooter, but Thornwell has such a strong body which allows him to be more physical than other perimeter players in the league. He’s a good enough ball handler that Martin trusts him to run the point, but he’s most effective being an attacker off the ball.

If there’s a more underrated player in the league than Duane Notice I’d be surprised. Notice is a strong and effective guard who has become a better shooter and more effective scorer with each season. Notice is best played off the ball but he’s another guy who Martin trusts to bring it up. Notice would be one of my picks for under-the-radar breakout type of players this year, he’s not a household name, but he can turn into one quickly. Perhaps the most important player on the roster is Chris Silva, an energetic post player who was inconsistent a year ago, but has a very high ceiling and a motor any coach would love. Justin McKie has proven he is a solid and reliable guard, who will likely play in the shadows of the other big three but can provide long spells of support. TeMarcus Blanton is a big physical guard who saw limited action last season after recovering from a hip injury. The Gamecocks could use him stepping up to fill another reserve role.

NCAA Basketball: Florida at South Carolina
The Gamecocks need PJ Dozier to play like he’s capable this season.
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

P.J. Dozier | SOPHOMORE | COMBO GUARD

A heralded McDonald’s All American guard, P.J. Dozier stepped on campus in Columbia and people expected a lot. He dealt with a series of small injuries and inflammations and took a while to adjust to the college level, but came on later in the season. Because South Carolina is short a few interior players they really need Dozier to step up and be the kind of player he’s capable of. He should have plenty of help from Thornwell and Notice, but the ceiling on Dozier is the highest, and the sophomore season for so many is the season when it all clicks. I think it’s gonna click for Dozier this season.

WHO’S NEW?

class player ht wt rating ranking pos
Fr Sedee Keita 6'9 225 114 POST
Fr Khadim Gueye 7'1 220 303 POST
Fr Maik Kotsar 6'10 245 337 POST
Fr Rakym Felder 6'1 185 357 CG
So Hassani Gravett 6'2 180 - CG
So Ran Tut 6'9 210 - POST
Jr Kory Holden 6'1 180 TRANSFER -- Delaware CG

Sedee Keita was an important recruit for Frank Martin because he’ll be able to step in and help with the interior right away. Keita was a high priority for a lot of teams as a physical rebounder with an offensive game that’s rounding into shape. Think of him as a good pairing with Silva inside. Khadim Gueye is big, though needs a lot of work and I’m not sure what USC will get out of him this year. I would not recommend searching for him on YouTube unless you are in the mood for islamic chanting. If that’s your thing, have at it. Rakym Felder is listed on the SC roster at 5’10 and 210 pounds, but he’ll have to navigate the courts before searching for playing time as he’s already been arrested. Arrested players don’t last long under Martin, so keep an eye on what happens there. Hassani Gravett is a guy who could see some time as a JUCO Transfer. Gravett originally committed to Gardner-Webb, went to prep school instead and committed to Lousianan-Lafayette before heading to Junior College and picking South Carolina. Kory Holden will be sitting out this year, but the transfer from Delaware will provide scoring for the Gamecocks when he is eligible.

DEPTH CHART

Point Guard Combo Guard Wing
P.J. Dozier Duane Notice Sindarius Thornwell
Hassani Gravett Justin McKie TeMarcus Blanton
Combo Forward Post
Chris Silva Ran TutKeita
Sedee Keita Kadim Gueye

I have a lot of faith in Frank Martin apparently. I also have a lot of faith in their top three guards. The Gamecocks are going to rely heavily on Dozier, Notice and Thornwell, and could even go with a four guard lineup using either Gravett or McKie and having Silva as their only post. That’s not a bad group, just once you get past those 7 things get thin in a hurry.

SCHEDULE

My Projected Schedule: 20 - 11 | KenPom Projected Schedule: 18 - 11

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Non-Con: La Tech, Monmouth, Michigan, Syracuse (n), Seton Hall (n), @ USF, Clemson, @ Memphis

Five very tough games will make this years schedule a lot tougher than the previous years schedule which likely kept the Gamecocks out of the NCAA tournament. Louisiana Tech and Monmouth aren’t going to be pushovers. If S.C. can get out of conference play with only 3 losses I’d consider that a big win for them.

Conference: Georgia (2x), Tennessee (2x), Mississippi St (2x), Ole Miss (2x), Florida (2x), Texas A&M, @ Vandy, Arkansas, @ Kentucky

There’s good balance to this league slate, with Georgia and Florida as home-and-homes on the more difficult end, then Tennessee, MSU and Ole Miss on the easier end. No road game in the SEC is easy, but having a road game against Kentucky is usually a good thing because that was likely to be a loss no matter where they play, instead they get Arkansas and Texas A&M at home which turns into winnable games. South Carolina needs to be tough as nails at home, and if they can get three games over .500 in league play and not bomb out in the non-conference, i think you’ve got a chance at the NCAAs.

OVERVIEW

Last year felt like a breakthrough, but realistically South Carolina wasn’t quite there. They won a lot of games but had really only one signature win on the road against Texas A&M. They beat Clemson and Tulsa, but a weak non-conference schedule (coupled with a loss to Missouri on the road) likely sunk their NCAA hopes. Still there was a sense of accomplishment that said South Carolina wasn’t bad at basketball any longer.

South Carolina’s returning players shot chart 2015-16

Losing Carrerra, Kacinas and Chatkeviscious won’t be an easy feat to overcome because now the Gamecocks have to go really young on the interior. The inexperience on the interior is flanked by ultra experience on the outside, which could be the difference in the season. Having depth and talent at all three guard spots, three guys who you trust to bring the ball up and players behind them who are consistent is why it’s hard for me not to buy into the Gamecocks this season. One thing you know for certain, being a Frank Martin team, they’re going to fight you tooth and nail and aren’t afraid to win ugly. Ugly wins will happen more often than not.

With so little depth inside they won’t be able to afford foul trouble, which is one of the hallmarks of Murderball under Martin. Perhaps the player with the most value on the roster is Chris Silva, the interior player with a seemingly endless amount of energy. Last season Silva averaged a foul every 4.25 minutes, which would foul him out after just 21 minutes of play. Neither he or Martin can withstand many games against good competition where Silva is having these sorts of foul problems, especially if Sedee Keita has any lingering problems with a wrist injury that has sidelined him early in the preseason. Obviously Silva will have to be subbed out, the Gamecocks just need it to happen on their terms and not the officials terms. If Silva is avoiding foul trouble there are a lot of reasons to believe the Gamecocks could return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004.

It’s been a long drought in Columbia, and there are certainly still obstacles in their way, but when you look at trend lines things are heading where you want them. Martin had year zero in 2013, and has made progress in each season culminating with a trip to the NIT last season. It’s time for the next step, in order for the next step to happen South Carolina needs some breaks to go their way. They’ll need to stay healthy, they’ll need their guards to play even better, and they’ll need their bigs to play better than expected. If the Gamecocks get their breaks, they’re looking at the NCAA bubble, if they don’t they’re fighting for an NIT birth. I’m not one to bet against Frank Martin.


About the preview: Each SEC site was asked to submit one representative to pick the entire league schedule game by game. Because these are game by game picks, they often tend to be a bit of a rosier picture of each teams potential. Each rep’s picks are reflected in the record prediction for the site listed at the top of the page, and within “the Masses” picks as well. Included in “the Masses” are various SEC media members who made picks at my request also.

If you’d like to submit your picks, here is the Google Form we used:


GLOSSARY

GP - Games Played

%min - percentage of total available minutes played, does not account for time missed due to injury

%pts - percentage of teams points scored

%ov - offensive team value, simple formula of (%points + %rebounds) - %turnovers/*100, similar to Offensive Rating but places more value on performance to the team