After its 78-60 rout of Western Michigan on Monday, the South Carolina basketball team is 2-0. The Gamecocks have won their games by an average of 19.5 points.
The opponents – WMU and Wofford – haven’t been marquee names, but know this: Both the Broncos and Terriers have looked really good when playing foes not named USC.
Wofford, two days after opening its new arena with a 73-52 loss to Carolina, crushed Washington & Lee, 103-66. And prior to its visit to Colonial Life Arena, WMU was 1-0 with a 103-72 win over Siena Heights College.
USC coach Frank Martin is mostly pleased with his team as it heads to Conway for the relocated Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament.
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“We just beat a real good basketball team,” Martin said Monday. “These guys won nine of their last 10 games last year. They returned everybody. … I don’t like speaking in arrogant ways because it’s not my personality, but I thought defensively we controlled the game.”
Here’s what we learned from Carolina’s latest victory:
The Gamecocks could have a lot of leading scorers this season
Sindarius Thornwell played in 31 of USC’s 37 games last season. He led the Gamecocks in scoring in 22 of them, including the first six.
Such single player reliance isn’t likely to happen in 2017-18. Maik Kotsar (13 points) topped Carolina in the Wofford win. Hassani Gravett (15) topped the Gamecocks in the WMU win.
Against the Terriers, eight USC players scored at least six points. Against the Broncos, seven scored at least six points.
The balance looks great in blowout wins, but Martin’s main preseason concern has yet to surface. Which Gamecock steps up in the clutch moments? Thornwell embraced that role in the past. That’s a near-future step for this team as it continues to form its own identity.
Martin-approved defense still exists
Martin’s optimism about these Gamecocks began in early October when he told a room of reporters he thought he had the best shooting team in his 10 years as a head coach. It was in that same press conference, though, when he noted he wasn’t installing USC’s defense for another couple weeks.
That was going to be a challenge, especially for a bunch that included eight new players.
But through two games – a small sample size, yes – South Carolina is 10th nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings. It finished third in that category last season.
“And I haven’t even changed defenses yet,” Martin said Monday. “I’ve pretty much stuck with our man-to-man because that’s our bread and butter and our guys have to learn how to play in it.
“I think we played three possessions of zone today. I probably should have played a little bit more zone today, but once again I’m trying to get our guys to learn.”
This lineup is starting to stick
With all the new faces, Martin was naturally hesitant in the preseason to be committed to one starting lineup.
But, two exhibition games included, there’s been proven consistency with one set five. Gravett, Kotsar, Chris Silva, Frank Booker and Justin Minaya started and combined for USC’s first 32 points against Erskine on Oct. 30. Martin’s rolled with that lineup twice since then, including both regular season games.
Gravett, Kotsar (10), Silva (10) and Booker (14) all scored in double figures Monday. Minaya, a freshman, had five points, five rebounds, two assists and was Carolina’s best defender against WMU leading scorer Thomas Wilder.
“He’s a good player,” Martin said of Minaya. “He’s got a chance to become a real, real good player. He’s not scared.”