Frank Martin: South Carolina ‘just has to be better’ at finishing off close games
Who: Augusta University at South Carolina (exhibition game)
When: 6 p.m. Friday
Where: Colonial Life Arena
10 things to watch
Coach Frank Martin has been consistent this preseason in praising the leadership on display from his returning players. He likes the core formed by Chris Silva and company and how they’ve quickly brought along the eight newcomers.
That said, it’s likely safe to assume he’ll roll out the following five to begin the 2018-19 season: PG Tre Campbell, SG Hassani Gravett, SF Justin Minaya, PF Silva, C Maik Kotsar. Gravett, Minaya, Silva and Kotsar have combined to start 197 games in a USC uniform. Campbell, a senior graduate transfer, started 21 games over three years at Georgetown.
Martin’s on record this month of saying this current group of rookies makes up the most talented freshman class he’s had at South Carolina, but the seventh-year coach might value experience more than anything else. He seems comfortable at least beginning this season on the old side.
Tre Campbell’s impact
Campbell suffered an ankle injury earlier this month, but Martin said during SEC media day last week that the 6-foot, 183-pounder was back on the court.
After successful one-year stints from Frank Booker and Wes Myers, Martin feels encouraged about another grad transfer leaving USC on a high note. Campbell, who played in a structured Princeton-style offense under then-Hoyas coach John Thompson III, is eager to look like a top 100 recruit again.
An exhibition game isn’t a great indicator, but how Campbell runs this offense for the first time against an opponent is certainly something to watch. Point guard play was an issue all last season.
South Carolina’s shooters
Part of the build-up to USC’s opening exhibition game in 2017-18 was Martin labeling that team the best shooting bunch of his career. And then the Gamecocks went out and missed 26 of their 35 3-point attempts in a win over Erskine.
“That’s why I usually keep my mouth shut,” Martin said afterward. “I go out and say we’re a good shooting team, and we go 1-for-156 in the second half.”
Things got a little better when the regular season began, but not much. Despite Booker knocking down 85 3s – good for third-most in program history – the Gamecocks finished ninth in the SEC in 3-point FG percentage (33.9) and last in the league in overall field goal percentage (39.8).
Booker is gone, so who takes the perimeter lead?
Freshmen at the point
With the nature of the game, the opponent and Campbell’s injury, a couple freshmen are bound to get point guard reps.
Martin hinted at this last week when he spoke to USC’s options as its most crucial position. Both T.J. Moss and A.J. Lawson will get their chances to run the offense. Moss is more of a classic at the spot, someone who averaged over 6 assists per game as a high school senior and excels more in the half-court. Lawson, a 6-foot-6, 172-pounder who’s drawn a P.J. Dozier comparison, likes to push the pace and might fit more when the Gamecocks face pressing defenses.
Augusta forced an average of 12.2 turnovers per game last season.
A free-flowing Hassani Gravett
Gravett became South Carolina’s most used PG last season, but his natural position is at the two-guard. Martin’s said he’s used Gravett more off the ball this preseason as other point options have emerged.
The goal here is to get Gravett to maximize his athletic ability without feeling the burden that comes with being a point guard.
“He’s playing fast, he’s playing aggressive,” Martin said last week. “That’s when you know a player is engaged mentally, is the aggression that they play with.”
In a transition-heavy South Carolina Pro-Am in July, Gravett averaged 16.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and four assists per game.
Keyshawn Bryant’s hops
Shortly after Bryant committed to South Carolina in June, Tyrone Woodside, Bryant’s high school coach, told The State that USC was getting a player with a “Jordan-esque” quality. The 6-6, 190-pounder can get up.
“He’s quick as a cat, a quick leaper, and runs like the wind,” Woodside said. “He could probably be on the track team running the 100 or the 200 (meters), he’s that fast.
“But you’ll see things where you’re really wowed by the things he does. That’s the kind of style that he has.”
Now at USC, Bryant’s abilities have been confirmed by everyone from Martin to Justin Minaya to Silva.
Maik Kotsar’s improvement
Kotsar upped his scoring by three points from his freshman to sophomore year. He again started 33 games and averaged close to five rebounds. But even he admits 2017-18 was a frustrating season. He made 45 percent of his 2-point shots and 57 percent of his free throws.
Martin thinks the 6-foot-11 Kotsar has NBA potential. He’s needed an improved work ethic to try to reach it.
“I’m seeing a different personality from him every day,” Martin said. “You can actually joke with him. In the past, he was wound up so tight because he was so worried about the balls not going in. Well, he’s at peace with it now because he’s working at it and the ball’s going in.”
Chris Silva’s 3-point shooting
Silva tested the NBA waters last spring and came back to USC with some noted areas to improve, including a 3-point shot. The powerful 6-foot-9 forward is 5 of 13 for his career from beyond the arc.
The potential is there, but will he pull the trigger more?
Martin’s preached to Silva this offseason that not every one of his shot attempts has to be a “fist-fight” around the rim. Developing a consistent jumper can help that cause.
Felipe Haase’s low-post game
Something to watch that’s opposite of Silva stepping outside is Haase going to the post more. The sophomore’s a big body who learned last year he needed to toughen up to handle consistent SEC competition. He played too much “outside-in.”
Expectations for this season? “I feel more comfortable hitting people on the block and stuff. Overall, I think I can be more inside-out.”
The Jaguars compete at the Division II level. They went 16-13 last season.
Friday marks Augusta’s second straight year facing a high-profile Palmetto State opponent in the preseason. The Jaguars led Clemson by 11 in the first half last October before falling, 80-56.