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South Carolina is locked into its second rebuild under Frank Martin

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Previewing the No. 10 team in the SEC, the South Carolina Gamecocks

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-South Carolina vs Mississippi Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports
USC Preview

#10 South Carolina Gamecocks

Last Season: 17 - 16 (7 - 11 SEC) No. 80 KenPom

My Prediction: 13 - 17 (6 - 12, 10th in SEC)

The Masses Prediction: 6.7 - 11.3 (10th in SEC) No. 42 KenPom

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at South Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

HEAD COACH: Frank Martin | Sixth season, 96 - 74

We don’t hesitate to pay dues for the Frank Martin Fan Club. He grew into a good coach at Kansas State before South Carolina — a program with just nine NCAA tournament bids — lured him away. Four seasons later, he led the Gamecocks to the program first Final Four. It’s truly remarkable, but since that run, and even to some degree before that, the Gamecocks have struggled to find consistency.

Early on, Martin found a compatriot in Sindarius Thornwell, an in-state star he could use as a cornerstone for his rebuild. With Thornwell now in the NBA, Martin has been searching in earnest for the next leader of his program. The talent level in Columbia has been adequate, and Carolina certainly benefited from some timing of the SEC’s overall dip in basketball up until last year. However, looking at this year’s roster and comparing it to the rest of the SEC makes you wonder whether Martin can sustain success at what has traditionally been a mediocre program.

Seat Temp: COOL

sec basketball preview 10 year look south carolina

If the Gamecocks disappoint, Martin could feel the heat turned up on his seat. But I tend to think his administration will give him a break if the Gamecocks endure another mediocre season. Remember, Martin led the program to one of just four tournament appearances since joining the SEC. Perhaps he deserves the benefit of the doubt.

SO, WHO’S GONE?

name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
Frank Booker graduation 33 67.07% 18.07% 13.36% 14.99%
Wesley Myers graduation 33 54.51% 11.15% 11.90% 12.04%
Kory Holden transfer 14 11.43% 2.03% 3.02% 3.16%
David Beatty transfer 29 25.71% 3.72% 4.21% 6.08%
Ibrahim Doumbia transfer 12 3.23% 0.35% 0.16% 0.54%
Khadim Gueye transfer 17 6.62% 0.00% 0.00% 0.12%
Tommy Corchiani* left team 2 0.23% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
Christian Schmitt* left team 3 0.45% 0.00% 0.00% 0.08%
33.85% 35.32% 32.65% 37.01%

The amount of turnover in the South Carolina roster the last few years, whether it was graduation or transfers, borders on alarming. Frank Booker transferred in after a rocky few years at Florida International, and his production exceeded what Martin and his staff expected. Booker turned a pretty pedestrian college career into a revival project in his last year. Wes Myers transitioned well into his graduate year, providing consistent minutes and solid shooting. David Beatty transferred in to be closer to home and was declared eligible immediately. Kory Holden looked like a possible solution for scoring punch on the perimeter but ended up leaving after struggling to stay healthy. Watching Ibrahim Doumbia and Khadim Gueye, neither of whom saw much floor time, seek new homes were two of the least surprising transfers in the SEC this past offseason.

AND, WHO’S BACK?

player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
Chris Silva SR POST 33 63.98% 20.41% 84.51% 12.30%
Maik Kotsar JR POST 33 65.79% 11.37% 50.92% 10.37%
Justin Minaya SO WING 32 64.66% 10.98% 53.35% 10.81%
Hassani Gravett R-SR CG 30 58.50% 9.60% 57.04% 18.31%
Felipe Haase SO POST 33 48.65% 8.30% 49.67% 7.29%
Evan Hinson JR CF 23 17.44% 2.72% 50.76% 1.46%
Jason Cudd SO POST 23 11.73% 1.30% 53.46% 0.80%
66.15% 64.68% 59.67% 60.54%
NCAA Basketball: Georgia at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Silva | SENIOR | POST

In searching for the most accurate picture of Chris Silva, I decided it would be an image of him getting fouled. Last season, Silva ranked second nationally in fouls drawn per 40 minutes and led the nation in free-throw rate, according to KenPom. Silva is a limited offensive player, but he’s as good at drawing fouls and generating offense from the line as any post player I’ve ever seen. However, Silva also had a fouls-committed rate over 5.0, meaning he’s still forced to the bench far too often. And last season South Carolina was a completely different team with him watching from the sideline.

If Silva takes another step offensively and stays on the floor, the Gamecocks will be a much tougher team and should exceed expectations.

Maik Kotsar isn’t a guy who is going to wow you with a lot of stats, but he’s very useful at the job Martin asks him to do. The big man is a ball mover and solid screener, and he also has a reliable mid-range jumper. He defends and rebounds, too. So Kotsar is a vital role guy on a team trying to put the pieces back together after its peak two years ago. On the perimeter, Hassani Gravett is a smaller version of Kotsar. He could be a lot more efficient offensively, but his assist rate is high and, like any Martin player, he defends well. Felipe Haase is one of the few players on the roster capable of making shots regularly, but he’s limited athletically and struggles to defend on the interior. Evan Hinson is a reliable energy guy who arrives post-football since he’s on scholarship to play for Will Muschamp. Jason Cudd didn’t earn a lot of time last year and looked like a developmental player — if he opts to sticks around.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-South Carolina vs Mississippi Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Minaya | SOPHOMORE | WING

One of the bigger bright spots last season was the play from freshman wing Justin Minaya. While he wasn’t always efficient, Minaya shot the ball well and, you guessed it, played plus defense. Minaya could be the Gamecocks answer at wing if he’s able to take another step forward this season. Minaya doesn’t wholly fit the 3-and-D profile, but he’s close, as he’s a little more inclined to attack off the bounce and closeouts. Out of all the members of last year’s freshmen class, Minaya is the most likely to make the jump from role player to a key cog. At worst, he’s capable of serving as a secondary option on a team in need of offensive options.

THEN, WHO’S NEW?

class player ht wt rating ranking pos
class player ht wt rating ranking pos
Fr A.J. Lawson 6'6 165 ★★★ 147 CG
Fr T.J. Moss 6'4 180 ★★★ 207 CG
Fr Jermaine Couisnard 6'4 185 ★★★ 218 CG
Fr Keyshawn Bryant 6'6 185 ★★★ 291 WING
Fr Alanzo Frink 6'8 285 ★★★ 433 POST
Jr Jair Bolden 6'3 210 - - CG
Sr Tre Campbell 6'2 170 - - CG

This class isn’t one where you think the newcomers will overwhelm veterans. What it does have are developmental pieces that, with a few years of experience, could be the foundation of an NCAA tournament team. A.J. Lawson is a poor man’s version of P.J. Dozier: a big guard with solid athleticism who desperately needs a college weight room. Lawson handles the ball well enough to act as a lead guard and could challenge for starters minutes on the perimeter. Both Lawson and T.J. Moss fit the profile as big-bodied guards Martin likes, and Moss might be the more underrated prospects on the recruiting board. He had a host of high-majors chasing and has a prime opportunity to play a lot of minutes.

Jermaine Couisnard is a little more developed physically, giving him a chance to play more minutes early on. On the wing, Keyshawn Bryant is loaded with athleticism, but his overall game is still raw. Alanzo Frink is a big, physical body who can compete early, but his ceiling is limited and projects him as a role player instead of a key piece of the rotation. Finally, Tre Campbell is a graduate transfer who’ll help bolster depth after seeing his playing time erode at Georgetown.

Jair Bolden is sitting out this season after transferring from George Washington and is the exact guard Frank Martin loves: tough, outspoken and a native New Yorker.

Depth Chart

position starter backup third
position starter backup third
(1) Point Guard Tre Campbell T.J. Moss Jair Bolden
(2) Combo Guard Hassani Gravett A.J. Lawson Jermaine Couisnard
(3) Wing Justin Minaya KeyShawn Bryant
(4) Combo Forward Chris Silva Felipe Haase
(5) Post Maik Kotsar Jason Cudd Alanzo Frink

The depth here is interesting. I tend to think Martin gives an early nod to his veterans before letting the youth take hold a little. You can’t dislodge Silva from his spot, but it’s possible to move pieces like Campbell and Gravett to a support roles off the bench since both have done that already.

SCHEDULE

My Projected Record: 13 - 17 | KenPom Projected Record: 17 - 13

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

NON-CONFERENCE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Nov 6 Home Southern 342 W
Nov 11 Home Appalacian State 178 W
Nov 15 Neutral Northeastern 78 W
Nov 16 Neutral Ball State/Va Tech 109/22 L
Nov 18 Neutral - - -
Nov 26 Home Murray State 130 W
Nov 29 Away UCF 70 W
Dec 4 Home Georgia State 89 W
Dec 9 Home Arizona 76 W
Dec 18 Home* Liberty 144 W
Dec 21 Home Penn State 32 W
Dec 30 Away Stephen F Austin 134 W
Jan 26 Away Baylor 40 L
avg 119.36

The Gamecocks ease into their schedule, but the slate gets brutal in a hurry. South Carolina could net an upset against Providence and generate some momentum, but then comes a brutal stretch: Michigan, Virginia and Clemson — all of whom made the NCAA tournament last season. The schedule is challenging, but it’s also going to season the Gamecocks for the SEC season. You tend to trust Frank Martin on these matters because the one thing his team won’t do is go into the tank. Even with a few losses in the non-conference slate, they’re likely to rebound and be a tough out the rest of the way.

CONFERENCE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Jan 5 Away Florida 19 L
Jan 8 Home Mississippi St 23 L
Jan 12 Home Missouri 43 W
Jan 16 Away Vanderbilt 69 L
Jan 19 Away LSU 50 L
Jan 22 Home Auburn 17 L
Jan 29 Home Tennessee 11 L
Feb 2 Away Georgia 101 L
Feb 5 Away Kentucky 7 L
Feb 9 Home Arkansas 64 W
Feb 13 Away Tennessee 11 L
Feb 16 Home Texas A&M 48 W
Feb 19 Home Ole Miss 94 W
Feb 23 Away Mississippi St 23 L
Feb 26 Home Alabama 51 L
Mar 2 Away Missouri 43 L
Mar 5 Away Texas A&M 48 W
Mar 9 Home Georgia 101 W
avg 45.72

Reason No. 1 why I expect Martin and his boys to exceed projections: the likelihood they start 1-8 in the SEC is small. Only one game in that stretch, a visit to Kentucky, looks likes a certain loss. (Maybe Florida, too. But the Gators lack the depth they’ve had in the past.) If the Gamecocks find a way to start 4-5 or 3-6, they should be fine. And if they see success in their non-conference schedule, they might challenge for a postseason bid.

OVERVIEW

Coming off a Final Four season, expectations might have been warped in what always going to be a bridge year. That’s par for the course at a program like South Carolina, where a tradition of consistency is virtually absent. I expected a dropoff, but Martin and his style were enough to keep the Gamecocks within shouting distance of .500 in SEC action.

Outperforming expectations is one reason why it’s hard to forecast what the Gamecocks might do. This season, it’s hard to predict how the middle of the league could shake out, because there are five to 10 teams who could easily finish 10-8. The margin between success for one team and failure for another is really slim.

Truth be told, I like this Carolina roster more than last year’s — and by a fair amount. There’s some decent depth, and while the top line talent might be missing, Martin has a host of guys who he can throw at a problem if it crops up.

At this point, we know what to expect from Kotsar, Silva, and Gravett. What’s changed is the youth behind them is made up of more talented freshman. Sure, some of them are developmental guys. But if Moss, Bryant, Couisnard or another newcomer find their footing? If that happens, Martin and his program will already one step ahead of a group that found a way to finish with a 7-11 record in the league last year.

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re a Gamecocks fan, a large chunk of your hope rests on Minaya taking the next step.

His numbers versus tier-one and tier-two opponents could be better after he posted a KenPom offensive rating below 100 against those teams. It’s crucial South Carolina fined an efficient offensive threat. Last season, Silva and Booker were the only members of the rotation to clear 100, which is average in KenPom’s index. An improved Minaya likely means easily replacing Booker’s lost production.

You have to expect there’ll be a fight in this team all season long. The schedule lays out well enough for them to exceed last season, but there are too many question marks in the shot-making department to see Carolina being a whole lot more than what they were a year ago.


About the preview: a number of respected basketball bloggers were asked to submit one 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, click here for the Google Form we used.


GLOSSARY

* - an asterisk denotes a walk-on player

GP - Games Played

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

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

%poss - percentage of team possessions the player is responsible for ending a possession, whether by making a shot, missing a shot not rebounded by the offense or committing a turnover.

%pts - percentage of teams points scored

ts% - true shooting percentage, basically points scored divided by 2x fga +0.44*fta.