South Carolina Gamecock Basketball Preview

South Carolina Basketball Preview
GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 01: Head coach Frank Martin of the South Carolina Gamecocks looks on against the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the 2017 NCAA Photos via Getty Images Men's Final Four Semifinal at University of Phoenix Stadium on April 1, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

The South Carolina Gamecock basketball season opens this week with two home games, as college hoops tips off around the nation. They host North Alabama on Wednesday night, and the Wyoming Cowboys come to town on Sunday.

Coach Frank Martin will be looking to guide this program back to the postseason after a two-year absence. He has a deep and versatile roster to work with, and a returning star in A.J. Lawson.

South Carolina Gamecock Basketball Preview

South Carolina has had a .500 or better record each of the last five seasons. It is the longest stretch for the program since the legendary Frank McGuire was manning the sidelines.

A season ago, Coach Martin’s team struggled in the non-conference portion of the schedule, before picking things up in SEC play. Ultimately those struggles cost them any chance at postseason play. It was unfortunate because the team improved greatly throughout the year, and was playing some really well down the stretch.

This season they have some tough games before hitting the SEC slate in January. It will be important to avoid early-season slip-ups that hurt them last year.

Star Power

Lawson flirted with the NBA draft after an All-SEC freshman selection during his first year in garnet and black. He decided to come back, and that decision should benefit him and the program immensely. After finishing second on the team in scoring as a freshman, he will be the team’s best offensive weapon as a sophomore. He has the length and skill to play any of the three perimeter positions. The 6’6″ guard has improved with his feel for the game and perimeter shooting since arriving in Columbia.

Coach Martin spoke about how Lawson is learning how to use his pace and aggressiveness best. Knowing when to attack and when to pull back based on the defense or game situations will help him elevate his play this winter. He spent the summer playing for Team Canada in the FIBA U19 World Cup. Lawson wasn’t among those recognized by the media in their preseason All-SEC selections, but don’t be surprised to see his name there at the end of the year.

Bench Depth

There has been a lot of talk during Coach Martin’s tenure about recruiting. Fans and pundits have lamented the fact that a bunch of in-state talent has left to play elsewhere. While that is not an issue that can just be overlooked, the more prominent issue has been the lack of quality depth this program has had in recent years.

This season’s team shouldn’t have that issue. When looking down this roster, there are no wasted scholarships this season. Each player has the size and skill to help this team win games. There are no project players who are taking up a spot in hopes of developing into a future contributor. Gamecock basketball will finally have a deep and talented roster able to handle injuries, foul trouble on any given night, and the general grind of a long season. The depth will be tested early with the injury to forward Keyshawn Bryant.

This team will have a multitude of options on the perimeter, and the guard play should carry them. In the paint, Maik Kotsar will be joined in the post by grad transfer Micaiah Henry, sophomore Alanzo Frink, and the freshman duo of Wildens Leveque and Jalyn McCreary. The first three will provide the bulk in the paint, while the two freshmen will add an abundance of athleticism.

Throughout preseason practice both coaches and players have remarked on how well the post players have protected the rim. Most of this team’s scoring will likely come from the guards, but the big men will need to catch and finish when the opportunities present themselves.

The Wait Is Over

This season will also mark the return to action for three Gamecock basketball players and the long-awaited debut for another. Guards Justin Minaya and T.J. Moss both missed most of last season with injuries, but are ready to go this year.

Minaya was a solid contributor as a freshman, and will likely be the team’s best perimeter defender. He brings a lot of intangibles to the table, with his high basketball IQ and instincts to find the ball.

Moss was starting to play really well before a foot injury ended his freshman season. He adds spot-up shooting and a solid option at point guard when needed. Both red-shirted last season after injuries in the non-conference.

The third player returning to college hoops action is transfer Jair Bolden. As a sophomore, he averaged 11 points and three assists a night for George Washington. Bolden sat out last year after transferring to South Carolina. Like Lawson and Moss, he can play either guard spot. He will add shooting and versatility to the Gamecocks backcourt.

Freshman Jermaine Couisnard will also finally be able to show the college hoops world what he can do. He was ruled ineligible a year ago and had to sit out the season. His praises have been sung by former Gamecock basketball legends Jo Jo English, Sindarius Thornwell, and Devan Downey based on what they’ve seen in practice and over the summer. The fans in Columbia are as excited to see what he can bring to the court as Couisnard himself is to finally be able to show what he can do.

Fast Start

South Carolina has finished in the top four of the SEC standings in three of the last four seasons. However, poor scheduling and poor performance in the non-conference have kept them from the NCAA tournament two of those seasons. The scheduling part isn’t an issue anymore. Gamecock basketball has a very solid slate of early-season games to navigate the next two months.

They will face Wichita State in Cancun in late November, and a win would likely set up a game with West Virginia. December brings an important four-game stretch that could define the first two months. Road games at UMASS, Clemson, and defending champ Virginia are sandwiched around a home date with the Houston Cougars.

Coach Martin’s teams always grow and improve throughout the year. If they gel early they can make a few statements before SEC play even begins. Early season losses cost this squad a season ago and negated the team’s improvement as the campaign progressed. This team needs to play well in November and December. A solid showing in the non-conference slate will give set them up nicely to make a run at returning to the NCAA tournament next March.

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