“Ain’t no telling, baby.”
THE SEASON GETS closer and the copy is churned out, breaking down every piece of South Carolina’s basketball team, every X, every O.
The main question asked of me, in email, on Twitter, standing in line at Jimmy John’s.
“Yeah, I know all that, but really, how good are they going to be?”
I usually reply with my standard, “If I knew that, I wouldn’t be working for a living.” That’s certainly true, but it’s also because I really don’t know. There is no telling how good this edition of the Gamecocks will be, because there are so many unknowns.
The biggest mystery is the eight newcomers and how they’ll adjust. That’s adjust to big-time college basketball, to each other, to their coach and his system. Only so much can be gained from practice and conditioning — as coach Frank Martin said, even his exhibition games (one closed and ultra-secret, Sunday’s open to the public) are about getting a feel for the team and really coaching them up, instead of coaching to win once the real games get here.
Then there are the upperclassmen. The group of freshmen that Martin brought in are sophomores and expected to be team leaders. The two seniors (and even though Bruce Ellington isn’t yet playing, he’s a constant around the basketball offices) are expected to carry on a much greater role, since they’ve played under Martin for a year. Their shoulders must get broader, to handle the pressures of being leaders on and off the court, and to help the youngsters transition to the next level.
Last year, many games shared a common theme. The Gamecocks were right there, in position to win, five minutes to go, and couldn’t finish. The assumption is that there is more talent to rely on this year, to cover those final five minutes and produce a win.
Schedule? Challenging games for a young squad, at Baylor and at Oklahoma State, with a tournament in Hawaii over Christmas that features strong mid-major teams among decent BCS-conference teams. The SEC slate does USC no favors, starting at Florida and setting the final two home games against Kentucky and Florida. It’s a schedule where USC has to take care of the middle of it, if it wants to challenge for a postseason berth.
Martin never has been a coach to list expectations, in terms of wins, goals, tournament berths, etc. All he wants is to see improvement every day. There is nowhere to go but up in terms of the freshmen development and for the program as a whole.
How good are they going to be? NCAA tournament? NIT? Winning record? Winning a game at the SEC tournament, something that hasn’t been done in the past five seasons?
I don’t know.
But it should be quite a ride.
|0||Sindarius Thornwell||G||6-5/206||Fr.||The highest-rated recruit of the class.|
|1||Brenton Williams||G||5-11/172||Sr.||Has potential to be a lethal scorer.|
|4||Ty Johnson||G||6-3/194||Jr.||Transfer year will be over by mid-December|
|5||Jaylen Shaw||G||6-0/182||Fr.||A pass-first point guard who will get a chance|
|10||Duane Notice||G||6-2/221||Fr.||Honed game with Canadian national team|
|12||Austin Constable||G||5-11/180||So.||Walk-on who provides depth and presence.|
|14||Laimonas Chatkevicius||F||6-11/250||So.||Returned in better shape than his freshman year.|
|15||Reggie Theus Jr.||F||6-6/210||Fr.||Son of NBA veteran who averaged 18 points per game.|
|20||Justin McKie||G||6-4/195||Fr.||State’s Mr. Basketball didn’t lose a game as a senior.|
|21||Demetrius Henry||F/C||6-9/215||Fr.||Top-100 recruit who averaged 18 points, 12 rebounds.|
|23||Bruce Ellington||G||5-9/196||Sr.||Will return to the team after football season|
|24||Michael Carrera||F||6-5/214||So.||Named to SEC All-Freshman team.|
|25||Minda Kacinas||F||6-7/210||So.||Played for Lithuanian national team|
|32||Desmond Ringer||F/C||6-9/255||Fr.||Helped lead high school team to state title.|
|35||Brian Steele||F||6-5/200||So.||Walk-on started final four games of freshman season|
|45||Carlton Geathers||F||6-10/255||Jr.||Recovering from a fractured kneecap.|
USC men’s schedule
#Diamond Head Classic, Honolulu, Hi.
The SEC, peeved at getting only three teams into the last NCAA tournament, dictated that all schools upgrade their non-conference schedules to improve RPI and catch the eyes of the selection committee. Frank Martin was cognizant that USC was part of the problem last year, with a schedule that rated 167th among 347, according to warrennolan.com. Martin was able to beef up the schedule with big games at Oklahoma State and Baylor, plus a trip to a Hawaii tournament that features solid mid-major teams among three power-conference teams.
The home non-con schedule does not feature many high-profile teams. The schedule is conducive to USC building its win total before conference play. With seven freshmen on the team, and unable to suit up Bruce Ellington or Ty Johnson for the first part of the slate (Ellington could be ready for the Oklahoma State game; Johnson perhaps for Manhattan), USC wants to win and work in as many players and rotations as it can before SEC play begins.
The Gamecocks got no favors from the league office by having to start the league slate at Florida, or play their final two home games against Kentuck and Florida. It means USC has to win in the middle of the schedule.
The first six SEC games. Four are on the road, with the first SEC game at Florida, a preseason Top 10 team. At A&M is a tricky game because the Aggies are a sturdy but not spectacular squad. And despite Missouri losing a lot of players, the Tigers always will be talented. The easiest game in the stretch seems to be on the road at Georgia. The two home games are LSU, a squad that has a lot of flashy talent and could make a tournament run, and Ole Miss, with Marshall Henderson in tow. USC beat Ole Miss in Columbia last year, and Henderson doesn’t have the supporting cast he did last year, so that could be a repeat. The Gamecocks need to beat A&M and Georgia on the road, and take out LSU at home. If they can get Ole Miss as well, it’s a winning stretch.
STRETCH THAT MUST BE WON
The next nine SEC games. Five are at home, and three are against Texas A&M, Auburn and Georgia, expected to be among the bottom teams in the conference. Another is against Vanderbilt, a team that finished strong last year but is a middle-of-the- pack team this year, and another against Alabama, a defensive-minded team that can be beaten with a like-minded effort. Three of the road games are difficult. Ole Miss, Tennessee (a good team this year; USC has not beaten the Volunteers since 2007, and has not won in Knoxville since 2002); and Arkansas (nearly unbeatable at home) are all tough. The other, at Auburn, is winnable, despite the Tigers having USC’s number in recent years. Get through that stretch 5-4, and the postseason glimmers.