For what it’s worth, Frank Martin did a good job over the decade he spent at South Carolina— just not a great one.
If a college basketball fan thinks about the Gamecocks, their opinion of the program might be low. Sure, there have been pockets of success: the early ‘70s, late ‘90s, and a Final Four run back in 2017. Unfortunately, that was Martin’s first and last NCAA tournament trip with the garnet and black.
While Martin’s win overall percentage (53.8) seems modest, the Gamecocks were better than you might expect in SEC play. After three seasons of rebuilding, Carolina went 60-37 in conference play for his remaining time on the job, including a .500 mark last year. Unfortunately, a weak non-conference slate, with included losses to Princeton and Coastal Carolina, eliminated any hopes for postseason play.
No one would describe South Carolina as a basketball school. Still, historically it fills two-thirds of its building and will put fans in the stands for marquee matchups. But coming off its Final Four run, Martin’s program played top-100 KenPom teams in home non-con games just five times over the next five seasons. The Gamecocks went just 1-4, with every loss coming by 10 points or more.
Eventually, the supply of goodwill ran dry. In addition, Martin was rumored to be looking for other opportunities in the two offseasons before this one. So, it was probably best for both sides to move on and try something new.
For Martin, it meant filling an opening at UMass, while administrators in Columbia plucked Lamont Paris from Chattanooga. He’s got quite the project on his hands.
Previous SEC Previews
#13 South Carolina Gamecocks
Last Season: 18 - 13 (9-9 in conference) No. 99 KenPom
My Prediction: 13 - 18 (5-13, 13th in conference)
The Masses Prediction: 5.1 - 12.9 (12th in conference)
SEC Media Prediction: 14th in conference
KenPom Projection: 14 -15 (6-12 in conference) No. 78
HEAD COACH: Lamont Paris | 1st Season, 0-0
I don’t blame South Carolina for wanting a reset. Martin had plenty of time to maximize a bump from a deep March run. Instead, the program became pretty stale—and the status quo won’t fill Colonial Life Arena.
That said, searching for his replacement was a bit messy. Out of six SEC schools, the Gamecocks’ hire came last after there were rumblings that school leaders were in talks with former Arizona coach Sean Miller. Dennis Gates’ name also popped up, for what it’s worth. But eventually, Lamont Paris, fresh from a near upset of Illinois in the NCAA tournament, was tasked with the gig.
Few would call it a home run hire, though. Instead, some patience might be required.
A former Division III player at the College of Wooster, the Ohio native’s coaching career is rooted in the Midwest, mainly in Ohio and Indiana. Eventually, he joined Bo Ryan’s staff at Wisconsin. He arrived right as the Badgers peaked, which included finishing as the national runner-up in 2015.
Then, in 2017, he filled the Mocs’ vacancy after Matt McCall moved on to UMass. It’s a program that’s been a launch pad for young coaches like McCall, Will Wade, and, way back in the day, Jeff Lebo. Taking over for McCall, though, ushered in a stylistic shift toward an offense inspired by Ryan’s famous Swing system.
Early on, the Mocs slumped. They finished 304th in KenPom in back-to-back seasons. But with his personnel and system in place, Paris lifted Chattanooga back to respectability in the Southern Conference. And this past season, his program broke through behind a stellar campaign by sophomore Malachi Smith and a rehabilitated Silvio DeSousa.
After going 27-8, making the jump was sensible. The Mocs were set to lose five seniors, while Smith became a coveted transfer in the portal (he landed at Gonzaga). Now, Paris will roll up his sleeves again.
Seat Temp: FRESH
Give Martin this much: he kept the Gamecocks competitive. The only blip was the 2020-21 campaign when COVID-19 ransacked their schedule and badly struck Martin. That said, his overall win percentage was solid. And for a program without a ton of history, having some stability was a good thing. But a shake-up was needed. We’ll see how Paris can respond.
SO, WHO’S GONE?
|James Reese IV||graduation||29||70.12%||13.77%||13.02%||11.24%|
With the arrival of the transfer portal, a coaching change usually triggers large-scale roster turnover, and that’s certainly what happened in Columbia. Nearly 82 percent of minutes went out the door, including 85 percent of scoring.
That would hurt any program, but it especially took a toll on South Carolina. Martin’s teams leaned on a balanced scoring attack last season with three double-digit scorers — Jermaine Couisnard, Erik Stevenson, and James Reese — but no one who put up more than 12 points per game. Paris and his staff were tasked with replacing the top six scorers from last year.
Couisnard transferred to Oregon, and Stevenson exercised his COVID year of eligibility to play for West Virginia. Keyshawn Bryant packed off his athleticism and ferocious dunks to South Florida. And point guard Devin Carter, a four-star freshman, left for Providence.
Meanwhile, two South Carolina big men - Wildens Levegue and TaQuan Woodley - followed Frank Martin to UMass to provide some depth and interior help for the Minutemen.
THEN, WHO’S BACK?
|Ford Cooper Jr*||SR||WING||1||0.56%||0.14%||150.00%||0.20%|
Well, this is awkward.
Normally in this section there is a featured player or two. Not this time. There simply aren’t any candidates. For example, Jacobi Wright leads returners at 15.6 minutes per game, and a usage rate around 17.3 percent. In other words, he was role player on a .500 team in the SEC.
That isn’t to say Wright and other holdovers can’t help. Wright is probably atop that list. A talented combo guard and South Carolina native, Wright is a former top-150 recruit whose minutes were consistent all year. Still, his usage was modest, and only averaged 0.671 points per possessions, according to Synergy tracking data. If you’re making a case for him seeing expanded playing time, it might be in a defensive role, considering the Gamecocks’ efficiency improved by almost six points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.
And Wright might be the best of what’s coming back.
Chico Carter, Jr. came back home for his junior year and was barely a factor after being a bit of a scorer at Murray State. Meanwhile, Josh Gray, Tre-Vaughn Minott, Ja’Von Benson only combined to play about 7 percent of the minutes.
AND, WHO’S NEW?
|SO||Meechie Johnson||6'2||172||TRANSFER||Ohio State||PG|
|SR||Ebrima Dibba||6'6||202||TRANSFER||Coastal Carolina||CG|
|SR||Hayden Brown||6'5||225||TRANSFER||The Citadel||CF|
G.G. Jackson | FRESHMAN | COMBO FORWARD
If five-star freshman G.G. Jackson isn’t the center of the offensive universe, Paris is committing coaching malpractice. Ranked atop the 2023 class, the South Carolina native reclassified, cashing in on NIL opportunities and speeding up his NBA draft clock. It’s a clear coup for Paris, too. Jackson was considered a lean toward the home-state school before Martin’s exit. Instead, he briefly pledged to North Carolina. Flipping Jackson not only helps on the floor but lends credibility to Paris sealing off the state— a goal he set shortly after landing the job.
If the Gamecocks desperately needs a scoring punch, Jackson is an obvious solution. He exploded this last offseason as his already tantalizing talent rounded into shape on the court. He expanded his range, tightened his handle, and looked like a lottery pick with his 6-foot-9 frame and the ability to run the floor like a gazelle. Jackson could be a top-five pick. Unfortunately, he also is likely to be another lottery pick who played for a team not good enough to make the NCAA Tournament.
Two more freshmen arrived on campus, but expectations will be much more modest. Daniel Hankins-Sanford, rated 181st nationally, is a 6-8 post player most at home working in the mid-post. However, he’s a quick-twitch athlete with a pretty clean shot form, making it reasonable to think he could stretch his range over time. Zachary Davis is another long combo forward, but not nearly as athletic.
Then come the transfers.
Troy Boynton is an athletic combo guard who was probably under-recruited out of high school and ended up at Evansville. He reportedly dealt with an injury that kept him out of competition and entered the transfer portal during the semester break last season. In addition, Paris landed Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk, the former Illinois forward. He was helpful in spot minutes playing behind Kofi Cockburn and Coleman Hawkins. He’s an athletic forward with a good skill set but struggled to break through on a top-20 team.
Ebrima Dibba moved over from Coastal Carolina, where he was a lightly used defensive combo guard. Hayden Brown joins the roster from the Citadel. He’s an undersized power forward who was an efficient scorer around the basket. It will be interesting to see how he adapts to the athleticism of the SEC.
Meechie Johnson | SOPHOMORE | POINT GUARD
Jackson rightly gets a lot of publicity, but Paris’ debut season will also hinge on the former four-star point guard’s reboot. The Ohio native enrolled early in Columbus, joining the Buckeyes midway through the 2020-21 campaign. He played sparingly, but that was fine. He was expected to take on a larger role last season. Instead, Jamari Wheeler earned most of the minutes, while Johnson saw his minutes wane down the stretch.
Johnson’s more of a scoring point guard, but he’s not always efficient in going about it. Last season, he ranked in the 14th percentile nationally, according to Synergy data. It didn’t matter where Johnson pulled the trigger. Per Pivot Analysis, he shot 32 percent or worse at the rim, in the mid-range, and from behind the 3-point arc. And with a 12.1 assist rate, it meant feeding him the ball and possibly sending it into a black hole.
Yet Johnson is talented. He’s also the son of a coach so he’s skilled and heady. He’s just had a hard time putting it all together. But if he can, Johnson might be the solution Paris needs at lead guard.
|(1) Point Guard||Meechie Johnson||Chico Carter|
|(2) Combo Guard||Jacobi Wright||Ebrima Dibba||Troy Boynton|
|(3) Wing||Hayden Brown||Zachary Davis|
|(4) Combo Forward||G.G. Jackson||Daniel Hankins-Sanford||Josh Gray|
|(5) Post||Bejamin Bosmans-Verdonk||Tre-Vaughn Minott||Ja'Von Benson|
Good luck sketching out a depth chart.
With so much turnover, it’s a challenging task, but it’s safe to assume Paris might ride Jackson into the ground. However, if Johnson and Wright come along, it would ease worries about how this team will score consistently. In addition, Dibba offers a defensive presence, and Carter can fill a backup role.
After Jackson, there are plenty of options in the front court, but not all are excellent. I like Bosmans-Verdonk to earn most of the minutes at the five spot. He’s agile enough to play at the four, but sliding down to the post makes Paris’ group a more competent offensive unit.
My Projected Record: 13-18 | KenPom Projected Record: 14-15
|Nov 7||Home||South Carolina State||347||W|
|Nov `17||Neutral||Colorado State||97||L|
|Nov 18||Neutral||Davidson / College of Charleston||105 / 196||W|
|Nov 25||Home||USC Upstate||301||W|
|Nov 30||Away||George Washington||224||W|
|Dec 17||Neutral||East Carolina||248||W|
|Dec 22||Home||Western Kentucky||99||L|
|Dec 30||Home||Eastern Michigan||311||W|
Almost every first year coach in the SEC opted for a manageable non-conference slate, and that holds true here. However, you could imagine Paris flipping three projected losses to the win column. For example, Niko Medved has firmly established Colorado State, which earned a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament last season. Yet, he’s also facing the task of replacing David Roddy, an All-Mountain West selection and a second-round NBA draft pick. And while a road contest at Georgetown should be a heavy lift, the Hoyas are fresh off a 6-25 campaign that led to Patrick Ewing feeling the heat and overhauling his staff.
I don’t know who talked Paris into a road game against UAB, but...yikes. The Blazers look poised to make their second straight NCAA appearance under Andy Kennedy. And Western Kentucky held onto Jamarion Sharp while adding the likes of Khristian Lander, a former five-star recruit for Indiana, as well as Kentucky wing Dontaie Allen.
One pitfall could be the early rivalry matchup against Clemson. Brad Brownell enters his 13th season for the Tigers, despite only having 3 NCAA Tournaments on his watch. The Tigers are usually pretty tough, but rarely great. They only have one season outside the KenPom top 100 but have slipped the last few seasons and were 71st a year ago. If this game were on the road, it’s much more likely a loss, but either way should be an early indicator of what kind of team South Carolina has.
|Jan 14||HOME||Texas A&M||45||W|
|Jan 17||HOME||Ole Miss||49||W|
|Jan 31||HOME||Mississippi State||53||W|
|Feb 11||Away||Ole Miss||49||L|
|Feb 28||Away||Mississippi State||53||L|
At the bottom of the standings, who you draw for home-and-homes matters.
Tennessee should be very good. But Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Georgia, and Mississippi State? It’s not out of the realm of possibility that all four are slugging it out to avoid playing on Wednesday in Nashville. I’ve projected South Carolina to pick up four of its five wins against that gang of four. But the margin in each could be thin— really thin.
Out of nine home games, three look like losses. The other six are toss-ups. Away from Colonial Life Arena, trips to Kentucky, Florida, LSU, and Tennessee will probably end poorly. Still, I’ve only got seven games marked as probable defeats, leaving 11 that could decide whether the Gamecocks tumble into the basement or claw their way to the middle of the pack.
Gone are the days of a multi-year reset. Today, the one-time transfer rule and NIL opportunities allow coaches in Paris’ position to shorten a rebuild. That said, the first year tends to remain bumpy.
It’s why Jackson’s arrival is so vital. His presence gives the fanbase a reason to show up and optimism that Paris can acquire the talent he needs to push up the standings. The issue is whether Jackson has an adequate supporting cast.
History tells us to keep our expectations in check.
Did Anthony Edwards help Georgia? Or Ziaire Williams with Stanford? How did Isaiah Stewart help Washington? How about Michael Porter, Jr.? Players of Jackson’s caliber rarely change a program’s fortunes swiftly. Unless you’re Cade Cunningham, whose time at Oklahoma State ended with loss in the first round of the NCAA tournament, non-blue bloods often find themselves in the same place after an elite talent departs.
For this to go right, Paris needs a lot of things to happen. First, he needs Jackson to be everything he’s cracked up to be, not a prospect with a high upside and kinks to work out. Next, one of his guards — Johnson, Wright or Carter — needs to become a secondary option on the perimeter. Ideally, Meechie Johnson and Jacobi Wright both take significant steps forward and handle the lead guard duties on top of being secondary scorers behind Jackson.
Stylistically, we should expect Paris to play slow. At Chattanooga, his offenses were typically better than his defenses. If you poke around Synergy, you’ll learn his system has a penchant for using post-ups and playing off a big to pick out guards for spot-up looks. As a member of Ryan’s coaching tree, he still runs a version of the Swing, a system that doesn’t rely on ball screens and generates more 3s than rim attacks. It also means fewer trips to the free-throw line.
Is this roster the right one to make it work? Is there enough shooting to keep gaps open for Jackson? We’ll see. Johnson doesn’t shoot a high volume of 3-balls, but he’s hit at a respectable 34 percent clip. Carter shot 42 percent as a sophomore at Murray State. After that, it gets dicey. Wright only made 25 percent as a freshman, and Dibba has made 29.4 percent of attempts in his career. Brown’s not much better at 28.7 percent.
Once you get past the excitement of Jackson staying home, you don’t see a lot of easy answers for how he’ll be backed up. There will be nights where he’s dominant and the best player on the floor, but how will he hold up as the season wears on?
Reasons to be OPTIMISTIC
Look, South Carolina fans should be thrilled they get to see Jackson try to put Paris’ rebuild on the right track. And Paris has shown he can reset a program and make incremental progress. If the backcourt shakes out well, Paris will have enough offense to let his front court lean on teams defensively. Flip enough toss-ups, and the Gamecocks could get to the middle of the standings and earn an NIT bid.
Reasons to be PESSIMISTIC
Let’s be honest; outside of Jackson this roster is thin. The only other legitimate high-major talent is Johnson, and he’s shown few tangible signs of making good on his potential. After that? It’s average up-transfers and the back-end of a rotation for a .500 SEC squad. In truth, Jackson’s usage will likely be through the roof, applying a ton of pressure that might be too much — even for a one-and-done talent.
About the preview: a number of respected basketball bloggers were asked to submit one pick for 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 Masses” picks. 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.
* - 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.