South Carolina’s season still had hope late Thursday evening.
The visiting locker room in the Scottrade Center presented a typical scene following a postseason loss. Faces were long, stares were blank. The Gamecocks had just fallen to Arkansas in the second round of the SEC tournament.
USC would soon be leaving St. Louis, sure, but finality hadn’t sunk in.
“I’m a basketball player, and I love playing basketball,” said senior guard Frank Booker, “especially with these guys. If we get to go anywhere, I’d rather keep playing.”
Carolina learned Sunday evening future games weren’t in the plans. The Gamecocks didn’t make the 32-team NIT, ending their year with a 17-16 record.
Booker, one of two departing players, tweeted shortly after the announcement his gratitude for coach Frank Martin, athletics director Ray Tanner and USC as a whole. “I couldn’t have asked for better teammates, coaching staff and environment to play in.”
A look back on Carolina’s 2017-18 campaign with five takeaways:
USC met expectations
When South Carolina was picked in the preseason to finish 11th in the SEC, it raised some eyebrows at media day in Nashville. Mississippi State coach Ben Howland called the ranking “a joke,” while Martin somewhat took it in stride, noting “I might be happy if we’re 11th because the league is so good.”
Five months later, the Gamecocks were a No. 11 seed in the SEC tournament. The league then sent a record eight teams to the NCAA tournament.
In perhaps the SEC’s deepest year ever, the Gamecocks earned seven wins, including one against the league regular season champion (Auburn), league tournament champion (Kentucky) and the tournament’s No. 3 seed (Florida).
The Gamecocks had to manage without SEC player of the year Sindarius Thornwell. They lost more than 70 percent of their scoring, nearly 60 percent of their rebounding and more than 80 percent of their assists from last year’s team.
Booker and Wes Myers exceeded expectations
Should USC be in the market this spring for another graduate transfer, Martin has Booker and Wes Myers to use as recruiting tools.
The unheralded duo, one added last June from Florida Atlantic and the other added in August from Maine, became vital pieces to the 2017-18 team.
Booker, who never had finished a season averaging more than 5.7 points a game, was second on USC in scoring at 12.7 ppg. His 85 made 3-pointers are the third-most in a season in school history.
Only Booker and Chris Silva scored more in SEC games than Myers (9.9 ppg). He guided the Gamecocks to the upset at then-ranked Florida in January with 22 points.
Silva’s season leaves room for improvement
With Thornwell, P.J. Dozier and Duane Notice gone, Silva stepped into a leading role for South Carolina this season. This was foreign territory for the junior forward who has spent most of his brief basketball life as a supporter.
His finished with a first-team All-SEC nod and co-defensive player of the year honor. He had 10 double-doubles, including three straight to end the year.
Martin’s continued prodding of Silva produced a banner year, but the hard coaching won’t stop anytime soon. Silva is set up for a big senior season. Improved guard play should make the double teams come less frequently (see Silva’s 87 turnovers). Better perimeter defending should stop Silva from running into so much foul trouble (see 3.5 fouls per game and five disqualifications).
Point guard inconsistency
Dozier’s departure combined with Rakym Felder’s legal troubles was always going to make it a challenging season at the USC point guard position.
Hassani Gravett, more of a natural “two,” had to handle the majority of PG duties. His good moments – see 19 points at Mississippi State – often were blended with bad – see eight turnovers in that same game. Myers had similar up-and-down stretches. Delaware transfer Kory Holden, who could have helped the position, left the team in February after a series of injuries.
South Carolina is 158th nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive efficiency rankings, its lowest placement since 2012-13, Martin’s first season at USC. It shot 39.8 percent, the worst of the Martin era.
No consistent closer
The Gamecocks missed nine of their final 10 field goal attempts in the five-point loss to Arkansas, a semi-fitting way to end the season.
USC missed Thornwell the most at crunch time in 2017-18. After Dec. 30, USC lost seven games by seven points or fewer, four coming against NCAA tournament teams.
Perhaps the return of Felder, the possible addition of Brian Bowen or an improvement to Justin Minaya’s game changes this narrative for the Gamecocks next season.