Frank Martin’s Gamecocks are struggling right now. They have started SEC play 0-2 and sit at 9-5 overall. With players like Sindarius Thornwell, P.J. Dozier and Duane Notice leaving after last year’s Final Four run, a drop off was expected. Unfortunately, the drop off has been greater when combined with the improvement throughout the rest of the SEC. Back-court issues have plagued this team so far. There are multiple reasons leading to these struggles. The South Carolina Gamecocks now have to figure out how to right the ship mid-season, and overcome the attrition and injuries that have beset this roster.
South Carolina Gamecocks Back-Court Issues
The Gamecocks are suffering more from attrition in the back-court than anywhere else. The decision by Dozier to declare early for the NBA draft was always going to affect this team. When sophomore Rah Felder was suspended, the situation became even more dire. He would easily be the lead ball handler on this team and give them someone to run the offense. Those two missing spots on the roster hurt the most because they were part of this team last season and already have a comfort level with what Coach Martin wants. The back-court issues have surfaced mainly as a correlation to these two missing pieces.
There is other potential back-court help the Gamecocks have missed out on. There are multiple guards from this state currently playing for other division one programs. Devonte Shuler is a freshman guard from Irmo, South Carolina, who is averaging nine points a game for Ole Miss. Seventh Woods was a highly sought after point guard from Columbia that has been a bench player for defending National Champion North Carolina for the last two seasons. Either of these guys could add much needed help and back-court depth. Senior Jaylen Shaw transferred out of South Carolina after his freshman year. He is averaging 16 points and 5 assists per game at Coastal Carolina this season. Former reserve guard and Columbia native Marcus Stroman also transferred out of the Gamecock program. He is averaging seven points and over five assists per contest at Louisiana-Lafayette.
Injuries Take Toll
Hassani Gravett started the first 12 games of the year at point guard. While his play was sometimes erratic, he brought stability to the team. He has averaged nine points and four assists per game. His decision making has put him in Martin’s cross hairs plenty over the first 12 games, but he is the best option on the team to run the point. The team has struggled running offense and even handling the ball versus full court man to man since he went down. Gravett rolled his ankle leading up to the SEC opener at Ole Miss. He also missed this week’s home loss to Missouri. While he was still getting comfortable running the offense, he had began to pick up his game on the defensive end. The Gamecocks miss him on both ends of the floor at the moment.
Transfer guard Kory Holden was still working himself back into shape when he went down with a hamstring injury. He had off-season knee surgery and was just beginning to regain the form he showed at Delaware before moving to Columbia. Holden had eight points in 15 minutes before hurting his hamstring against Clemson. Now with two ball handlers out due to injury, transfer Wes Myers and freshman David Beatty have been forced into point guard duties. Both have struggled trying to fill that void. Myers is experiencing some growing pains as he has stepped up in the level of competition from his time at Maine. Beatty is more of a wing player and not a natural point guard. He is dealing with trying to adjust to the college game, and now trying to learn an unfamiliar position. It has been a struggle to say the least.
After that magical run last season, there was hope the Gamecocks would be able to springboard off that success. Unfortunately, it appears their back-court issues will force the program to take a step back this year. Coach Martin has done a masterful job building this program up from the ruins it was in due to the previous regime. They have increased their overall and SEC win total in each of his five previous seasons. That run will not continue this year. One thing Martin has not had as much success at is keeping that instate high school talent at home. The last few years have yielded a solid amount of instate division one talent. Not enough of them have come to Columbia for college.
The combination of not securing enough of the instate talent, the attrition due to transfers and suspensions and the injuries to the current roster have taken their toll. The back-court issues have been the most prevalent. These Gamecocks are averaging just 13.7 assists per game and turning the ball over 14.5 times a contest. The team’s best player, forward Chris Silva, is often not properly utilized because the guard play has not been up to par. The back-court issues are magnified by this team’s youth, as there are four freshman and six newcomers overall in the rotation. The team is young and should grow throughout the year. However, unless Gravett and Holden can recover quickly from their injuries, the vastly improved SEC will provide a tough road to navigate.