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2017-18 SEC Basketball Season Preview: South Carolina Gamecocks

The Gamecocks made a run for the ages in the 2017 NCAA Tournament. There is a lot of turnover this year, though. But Frank Martin’s clout holds a lot of weight.

NCAA Men's Final Four - Practice Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

South Carolina Gamecocks 2017-18 Season Preview

Head Coach: Frank Martin (96-74, 5 years at South Carolina. 213-128 career.)

Last year: 26-11 (12-6 SEC); KenPom rating: 24

Returning starters: 2

Returning possession-minutes: 28.3%

Recruiting class ranking: #63 nationally; #13 in SEC


KenPom.com

How Did We Get Here?

Remember when Frank Martin took the South Carolina job and everyone insisted it was a lateral move to his then-current Kansas State job? 2012 was a weird time, huh?

Martin’s time at South Carolina has coincided with the school’s best streak of success in nearly 40 years. While he’s only led the team to one NCAA Tournament (last year, more on that in a moment), there’s been a clear upward progression in each of his five seasons.

The Gamecocks made the Final Four for the first time in school history last season behind a Herculean NCAA Tournament run from Sindarius Thornwell, as the 2017 SEC Player of the Year averaged 23.6 points and seven rebounds per game in South Carolina’s five NCAA Tournament games.

2016-17 was really the perfect storm for South Carolina, who won its first eight games of the season without Thornwell, who was serving a suspension. They really didn’t struggle until the back half of SEC play came along, as they lost six of their last nine games and were in a bit of danger of missing the NCAA Tournament. They didn’t, and the rest is history.

So what went well? The defense, for the most part. Going back to his Kansas State days, Martin’s teams always play excruciatingly tough defense. Last year was no different, as the Gamecocks’ defensive efficiency of 88.1 was good enough for third-best of the 351 eligible teams

If you have a good defense, you can generally make up for offensive deficiencies. That was certainly the case for South Carolina, who finished far below the national average in two-point field goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage, and effective field goal percentage. They protected the ball, rebounded well, and forced turnovers, which made all the difference in the world.


Backcourt

# Player Height Year Notes
0 David Beatty 6'2" So. #151 recruit
1 Kory Holden 6'2" Jr. Transfer from Delaware
2 Hassani Gravett 6'1" Fr. 3.2 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 1.4 apg in 2016
5 Frank Booker 6'4" Jr. Transfer from FAU
15 Wesley Myers 6'2" Sr. Transfer from Niagara
20 Tommy Corchiani 6'1" So. walk-on
23 John Ragin 6'2" So. walk-on
25 Christian Schmitt 6'0" So. walk-on

South Carolina’s backcourt will feature a myriad of unknowns this season. The lead returnee from the Final Four team a year ago is 6-foot-1 junior Hassani Gravett. Gravett, formerly of Pensacola State College, played an average of 17.0 minutes per game last season and 17.4 minutes in conference play. He scored 3.2 points, grabbed 1.6 rebounds and averaged 1.4 assists per game in his first year as a Gamecock.

From there, you’re looking at a roster of first-timers in garnet and black and walk-ons. There’s Delaware Blue Hens transfer Kory Holden, who will be good to go for the season opener on Friday against the Wofford Terriers. Holden had suffered a knee injury in the offseason, and did not play in South Carolina’s scrimmage vs. the Virginia Tech Hokies over the weekend.

He should provide a boost for this team and, if nothing else, a veteran presence. In his two years in Newark, Holden averaged 15.1 points per game, with a mark of 17.7 the last time we sa

w him in 2015-16. He was an All-Colonial Athletic Association Second Teamer that year, following up an appearance on the CAA’s All-Rookie Team.

There’s also Frank Booker. The 6-foot-3 Booker last was seen with the Florida Atlantic Owls, and decided to be a grad transfer this past offseason. He averaged 5.7 points per game in 16.1 minutes on the floor with FAU last year, but shot a dismal 29.4 percent from outside. His 3-point shooting has steadily declined from his marks as a freshman and sophomore, but the hope is that he bucks that trend this year.

Wesley Myers will also be making his first appearance in garnet and black this year, too. Columbia is Myers’ third stop in his collegiate career, having played for the Niagara Purple Eagles of the MAAC as well as the Maine Black Bears of the America East. Maine was Myers’ last stop, where he scored a team-best 16.9 points per game. That mark was also enough to get him in the Top 10 of the conference, finishing sixth behind Hartford Hawks star Jalen Ross and others.

3-star recruit David Beatty joins the team this season. The 151st overall recruit in the 2017 cycle comes to Columbia out of Imhotep Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Listed at 6-foot-3, 170 lbs., Beatty will likely be battling for playing time among the crop of veteran transfers. Coach Martin has used his freshmen well in the past, but I don’t expect him to be thrown to the wolves quite yet.

In essence, how the backcourt comes together depends on how the new faces gel. There are a slew of transfers who’ve played D1 ball, but not at the Power 5 level, of course. They’ve got two scorers in Holden and Myers. With much of the cast of last year’s team gone, the load will probably be supplanted on their shoulders. How Booker, Gravett and Beatty play their roles will likely go a long way toward determining how good this backcourt can be.


Frontcourt

# Player Height Year Notes
10 Justin Minaya 6'7" Fr. #12 recruit in NJ
12 Khadim Gueye 7'0" So. 0.4 ppg, 0.9 reb, 0.1 apg in 2016
13 Felipe Haase 6'8" Fr. #31 recruit in FL
14 Ibrahim Doumbia 6'8" Fr. #29 recruit in FL
21 Maik-Kalev Kotsar 6'10" So. 5.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 0.7 spg in 2016
30 Chris Silva 6'9" Jr. Lead returning scorer at 10.2 ppg
33 Jason Cudd 7'0" Fr. #7 recruit in SC

As noted above, the Gamecocks have just two returning starters this year. Lucky for them, both are frontcourt players!

Forward Chris Silva was the team leader in rebounds per game amongst players not named Sindarius Thornwell with 6.1 per game. He also had a team-leading 1.4 blocks per game. Perhaps the most positive sign for Silva’s ability going forward was his 13 point, 13 rebound, three block game in the Final Four loss to Gonzaga. For the Gamecocks to be successful this season, Silva will likely have to do the bulk of the heavy lifting.

The other returning starter, Maik Kotsar, was a solid rebounder as well (4.8 per game), but had issues offensively, scoring just 5.8 points per game and taking just 192 shots all year. He’s another player who will have to improve and be an anchor for the Gamecocks to be successful this year.

Other than those two, there are a lot of question marks. There were high hopes for Sedee Keita, a highly-touted freshman from Philadelphia. He struggled to crack the rotation and transferred to St. John’s.

Khadim Gueye, the Senegalese seven-footer returns for his sophomore season. He scored just five points in the 2016-17 campaign.

Freshmen Felipe Haase and Jason Cudd are two names to keep in mind, though.


Schedule

Date Opponent
11/10 at Wofford
11/13 Western Michigan
11/16 Illinois St. (Conway, SC)
11/17 UTEP/Boise St. (Conway, SC)
11/19 PR Tip-Off Final Game
11/27 at FIU
11/30 Temple (New York, NY)
12/2 UMass
12/6 Wyoming
12/9 Coastal Carolina
12/19 at Clemson
12/9 at Arizona
12/27 Limestone
12/31 at Ole Miss
1/3 Missouri
1/6 Vanderbilt
1/9 at Alabama
1/13 at Georgia
1/16 Kentucky
1/20 Tennessee
1/24 at Florida
1/27 Texas Tech (Big 12/SEC)
1/31 Mississippi State
2/3 at Texas A&M
2/6 at Arkansas
2/10 Florida
2/13 at Tennessee
2/17 Auburn
2/21 Georgia
2/24 at Mississippi State
2/28 LSU
3/3 at Auburn

Last year’s nonconference schedule was a bit of a grinder for the Gamecocks. They played seven teams that landed in the KenPom Top 100. To their credit, they went a hearty 7-3 against those teams. The only losses were to the Clemson Tigers, Memphis Tigers and Seton Hall Pirates. The Pirates were a tourney team, but the losses to rival Clemson and then Memphis were tough pills to swallow.

This year, things look a little bit lighter. Going into the year, they have five matchups against preseason Top 100 teams. The strongest battle isn’t until the Big 12/SEC Challenge. In this year’s edition, South Carolina hosts the Texas Tech Red Raiders, who start off the year ranked 33rd on KenPom. There will be matchups against Clemson, the Wyoming Cowboys, Temple Owls and Illinois State Redbirds. The games against Temple and ISU will be neutral site, as they take on the Owls at Madison Square Garden and the Redbirds in their first game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. The Tip-Off, due to hurricane damage, will be played in Myrtle Beach.

Depending on the result, South Carolina will face either the Boise State Broncos or UTEP Miners. Boise starts the year ranked 85th, and poses a threat with senior forward Chandler Hutchinson. The Miners, on the other hand, are ranked 176th and are a much less tougher task. The other side of the bracket boasts the Western Michigan Broncos, Tulsa Golden Hurricane, Appalachian State Mountaineers and Iowa State Cyclones. ISU is the highest-ranked of the bunch, starting off ranked 34th. Tulsa checks in 82nd, while WMU and Appy State are at 147th and 225th, respectively.

There’s a possibility that they’ll have to face seven Top 100 teams this year, but just two currently in the Top 40. Even with the insane turnover, they should be able to handle their business. Especially since the PR Tip-Off is now in their backyard. The trip to Littlejohn Coliseum on December 19th may pose a problem, but if they can come out of the nonconference season with just one or even two losses, it sets them up well for their conference schedule. And could allow them to take a hit if Texas Tech picked them off in January.

The Gamecocks avoid a trip to Rupp Arena this year and host the Kentucky Wildcats on January 16. They also will be hosting Michael Porter Jr. and the Missouri Tigers, and won’t have to go to the other Columbia. That’s the good news.

The bad news is they will have to go to the O’Dome, where a National Title contending-Florida Gators team resides. And play that UF team twice. They’ll also have to go see the Alabama Crimson Tide, Texas A&M Aggies and Arkansas Razorbacks, all of whom who could finish in the top half of the conference this year and make the Big Dance.


Outlook

It’s evident that South Carolina lost a ton of the pieces that made them great last season, and some regression is to be expected. But, how much regression?

It’s hard to prognosticate a team that lost 72% of its minutes from last year, because there are simply too many unknowns at the moment. Frank Martin has made a career out of doing the most he can out of the least he has, so I would have a hard time ever betting against him.

As noted, Chris Silva looks primed for a breakout season, it’s just a matter of if South Carolina could get significant contributions from one or two other players to complement Silva. If they can, the Gamecocks will likely be headed to back to back NCAA Tournaments for the first time since 1973 and 1974.

In the end, it really depends on how much you think Martin can coach up a hoard of transfers, Silva, and the rest of the complementary pieces aboard this year. Doubting his coaching prowess at this point is foolhardy, to be sure. They play in a much improved conference, one that will no doubt give them fits. But if last year’s any indication, South Carolina could certainly surprise again in 2017.