South Carolina begins season No. 8 under Frank Martin when it hosts North Alabama on Wednesday at Colonial Life Arena. Here are six bold predictions for what could happen over the next four months:
1. Jermaine Couisnard will finish second on the team in scoring
A.J. Lawson scored 23 points in last Wednesday’s exhibition win over CIU — and that’s without taking a shot until South Carolina’s ninth possession. The sophomore was selective with his offensive aggression, and still wound up having eight more points than any of his teammates. With Chris Silva gone, expect Lawson’s scoring to go from 13 a game to in the 15-18 range. He’s a shoo-in to lead the Gamecocks in that category. The real question is who finishes behind Lawson.
Here’s a vote for Jermaine Couisnard. While he’s yet to play in a college game, the redshirt freshman has received endorsements from the likes of Jo Jo English, Sindarius Thornwell and R.J. Barrett. He also had two 40-point games in the SC Pro-Am over the summer.
Couisnard could begin the season as the sixth man, but expect major minutes for the East Chicago native. Frank Martin said last Wednesday that Lawson and Couisnard play “really, really well” together.
2. This will be A.J. Lawson’s last season at South Carolina
A Gamecock hasn’t been selected in the first round of the NBA draft since Renaldo Balkman in 2006, but Lawson is trending to break that drought.
He tested the professional waters after an All-SEC freshman season, but opted to return for another year with the Gamecocks. It should serve well both the player and program. Lawson had a great summer of exposure in leading his homeland of Canada to the quarterfinal round of the FIBA under-19 World Cup and then being selected as a participant in Chris Paul’s camp.
Position versatility is key at the next level. The lanky guard can play anywhere from the point to the wing. His seven assists against CIU — the second-most of his career, if the game counted — are a sign of an improved skill set.
By the end of this season, Lawson will have a good feel for where he stands with NBA prospects. He’ll face six players — including Georgia’s Anthony Edwards, the potential No. 1 pick — who are among Sports Illustrated’s first round mock draft.
3. Frank Martin will get his first win at Clemson
Martin has two wins in seven years against the Tigers, neither of them coming on Clemson’s campus. South Carolina won as the road team in 2015-16, but the game was played in Greenville as Littlejohn Coliseum was being renovated.
Littlejohn will host the rivals Dec. 15. South Carolina should enter at 7-3 or better while Clemson, coming off a conference game at Florida State, figures to be 7-2 or worse.
The Tigers, picked to finish 11th in the ACC, lost four starters off last year’s team. Adding Alabama transfer — and Columbia native — Tevin Mack helps Clemson, but USC has a deeper roster, particularly if Keyshawn Bryant returns from his knee injury by this time.
This game, sandwiched between Houston at home and Virginia on the road, is part of Carolina’s most important stretch of the non-conference season. South Carolina needs it to boost an NCAA Tournament résumé. Expect the Gamecocks to break their three-game skid to the Tigers.
4. South Carolina will threaten a school record for 3-point attempts
The Gamecocks are a guard-oriented bunch in Year 1 of the post-Silva era. Yes, they’ll still play inside-out offensively, but Martin knows where their strengths are — and he’ll coach accordingly.
Lawson, Couisnard, Jair Bolden, Justin Minaya and T.J. Moss can all launch. With Couisnard out for an illness, the other four combined to go 8 of 12 from 3-point range against CIU, with Lawson and Bolden hitting three apiece.
Even with Silva as the offensive centerpiece, South Carolina took an average of 21.5 and 20.6 3s per game the last two seasons, the highest marks of the Martin era. Take Silva — and his paint presence — out and the Gamecocks are likely to top those numbers. The school record for 3 attempts in a season is 760, which the 2001-02 team did over 37 games (20.5 average).
If the Gamecocks average 22 3-attempts over 35 games — a projected four beyond the regular season — they’ll get to 770.
5. Wildens Leveque will lead all true freshmen in minutes, the whole team in blocks
In Martin’s seven seasons at South Carolina he’s had at least one true freshman average at least 19 minutes per game. There are really only two candidates to keep that tradition alive in 2019-20.
Guard depth will make it difficult on Trae Hannibal or Trey Anderson to crack the rotation, but Wildens Leveque and Jalyn McCreary are in a good position. Bryant’s injury means Martin will shy away early from a small lineup, allowing a true “four” or power forward to start next to Maik Kotsar.
Here’s to giving a slight edge to the 6-foot-11 Leveque over a 6-7 McCreary, 6-7 Alanzo Frink and 6-9 Micaiah Henry. Leveque’s defensive potential is better fit to fill the void left by Silva.
6. South Carolina will win 21 games, be sweating out Selection Sunday
Even with Bryant’s injury, a 20-11 (10-8 SEC) regular season seems doable. Add a 1-1 showing in the SEC Tournament and you’ll have an interesting résumé for the NCAA Tournament committee.
How did the Gamecocks go 10-3 in the non-conference? Here’s to saying USC beats Wichita State in Cancun and then goes 2-2 against West Virginia, Clemson, Houston and Virginia.
What’s included in the 10-8 conference record? Here’s to saying the Gamecocks win their home games against Florida and Tennessee, but road wins only come at Texas A&M and Vanderbilt.
All enough to be back in the Big Dance? Here’s to saying yes — as an 11-seed sent to Dayton for a “First Four” game.