South Carolina begins its third season under coach Frank Martin on Friday.
MARTIN KNOWS WHAT HE HAS. His first year was taking what he could get, from holdovers and a recruiting class that had most players committed by the previous fall. His second year had eight newcomers, with seven freshmen. This year, one newcomer will play because of injuries rocking the recruiting class, and the rest are players he has seen throughout at least one full season. There will be no learning on the fly.
BACKCOURT. The Gamecocks’ trio of guards – Duane Notice, Sindarius Thornwell and Ty Johnson – will be counted on to handle most of the scoring. Notice slimmed down and had a terrific summer, Thornwell is an all-SEC talent and Johnson is fully recovered from the broken foot that cost him the final 18 games of last year. The three had 47 of USC’s 92 points in its exhibition win.
STRONGER, TOUGHER, BETTER. Demetrius Henry, rail-thin as a freshman, has gained 15 pounds. Michael Carrera had a terrific summer and a great preseason, seeming to be back to his freshman-year form. The Gamecocks’ post players won’t be world-beaters, but they have experience and should be able to help the guards.
NOT OVERWHELMING. This team will not out-class anybody by sheer talent. It can’t just roll out the ball and trust that skill will win. It’s the same as last year – the game plan most nights will be to play 35 minutes and, basically, be even at that point. The coaches will design a way to win the final five.
NUMBERS. The Gamecocks are down three players before the season starts. Freshmen Shamiek Sheppard (knee) and TeMarcus Blanton (hip) were being counted on to contribute and junior Austin Constable (knee) probably wouldn’t have played but was a valuable practice player. USC is down to 11 players, making it difficult to rest vital players for the end-of-season stretch.
SMALL FRIES. When the Gamecocks were put down early last year, it was usually to a team with burly forwards and centers. The Gamecocks signed height to address it, but all three of the tallest recruits are unavailable. USC’s height tops out with 6-foot-11 Laimonas Chatkevicius and the 6-9 Henry. After that, there’s 6-7 Mindaugas Kacinas and 6-6 Reggie Theus, who has played in 11 games.