USC Men's Basketball

Procrastinator’s guide to the South Carolina men’s basketball season

At last check, South Carolina’s small NCAA Tournament dreams were dashed with a loss to Auburn in the 2019 SEC Tournament. While the Tigers went on to make the Final Four, the Gamecocks were already on to the next season.

The 2019-20 campaign begins Wednesday when USC hosts North Alabama. Tip time is set for 7 p.m. at Colonial Life Arena. If you haven’t been paying attention to Frank Martin’s bunch since last March, we’re here to catch you up with a procrastinator’s guide to what’s ahead.

Who left

Chris Silva is the most notable of South Carolina’s five departures. The three-year starter left the program 10th in scoring, sixth in rebounds and sixth in blocked shots. Now a rookie with the Miami Heat, Silva has appeared in the team’s first six games. He’s third on the Heat in blocks, despite averaging nine minutes a game.

Tre Campbell is the other starter gone, but so is Hassani Gravett, the SEC’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year. That duo finished first and second on the team in 3-pointers made.

Felipe Haase, who started eight games as a sophomore, transferred to Mercer.

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Who’s back

A day after being named to the coach-voted preseason All-SEC team, A.J. Lawson was named in a 2020 NBA mock draft. The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie projects USC’s star sophomore going in the second round (No. 42 overall) to the Oklahoma City Thunder. As a freshman last season, Lawson joined Sindarius Thornwell as the only Carolina players of the Martin era to average at least 13.4 points, four rebounds and 2.9 assists.

Forward Maik Kotsar is the most experienced Gamecock on the roster. A start in every game this regular season would give the senior 121 for his career, second-most in school history.

Like Lawson, Keyshawn Bryant is coming off a productive freshman year. The 6-foot-5 swingman averaged nine points a game in 2018-19, but his 2019-20 is on hold as he recovers from a knee injury. He’s expected back in four to six weeks.

Bryant emerged last season after Justin Minaya was lost with a knee injury. Minaya is now back and expected to resume his role as South Carolina’s starting wing.

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Who’s new

Without playing a game, Jermaine Couisnard has developed quite a reputation. The redshirt freshman from outside Chicago went off in the SC Pro-Am over the summer, dropping 40 points in consecutive games. The 6-foot-4 guard is in line for big minutes.

Jair Bolden, a fellow “Scout Team All-American” with Couisnard last season, is on the court after sitting out for transferring from George Washington. The 6-3 junior is expected to start at point guard.

Micaiah Henry is Martin’s fourth grad transfer in three years. A 10-point, five-rebound per game big man for Tennessee Tech, Henry, early on, will compete for backup forward minutes.

Among South Carolina’s four-man freshman class, bigs Wildens Leveque and Jalyn McCreary are expected to contribute most in the early going. That duo — average size: 6-9, 228 pounds — combined for 19 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and two blocks in last week’s exhibition win over Columbia International.

Seventh Woods, a Columbia high school legend from his mixtape days at Hammond, is sitting out this season after transferring from North Carolina.

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Expectations

South Carolina was pegged by the league’s media to finish 10th in the SEC, though Martin’s teams have exceeded such preseason expectations four of the past five years.

At least one national outlet — NCAA.com’s Andy Katz — has the Gamecocks making the NCAA Tournament.

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Big games

The Gamecocks have at least four big tests in the non-conference season. That increases to five should they knock off Wichita State on Nov. 26 and advance to play West Virginia the next day in the Cancun Challenge. A three-game stretch from Dec. 8 to Dec. 22 includes matchups with Houston (home), Clemson (road) and reigning national champion Virginia (road).

South Carolina opens SEC play with Florida (home), Tennessee (road) and Kentucky (home), a trio of teams that made the 2019 NCAA Tournament. It closes the regular season at Vanderbilt on March 7.

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NORTH ALABAMA AT SOUTH CAROLINA

Where: Colonial Life Arena

When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.

TV: Streaming on SEC Network Plus via WatchESPN app

Radio: 107.5 The Game in Columbia area

Projected starting lineups

North Alabama (10-22, 7-9 Atlantic Sun)

G Tavon King 5.4 ppg, 0.9 apg

G Jamari Blackmon 14.6 ppg, 2.7 apg

G Christian Agnew 11.3 ppg, 1.1 apg

F Emanuel Lewis 4.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg

F Payton Youngblood 7.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg

South Carolina (16-16, 11-7 SEC)

G Jair Bolden 11.2 ppg, 3.1 apg*

G Jermaine Couisnard 0.0 ppg, 0.0 apg

G A.J. Lawson 13.4 ppg, 2.9 apg

F Justin Minaya 7.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg

F Maik Kotsar 6.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg

* at George Washington

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Andrew Ramspacher has been covering college athletics since 2010, serving as The State’s USC men’s basketball beat writer since October 2017. His work has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors, Virginia Press Association and West Virginia Press Association. At a program-listed 5-foot-10, he’s always been destined to write about the game. Not play it.
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