South Carolina is another team like Texas A&M that turned some heads last year and over exceeded expectations in the SEC. It’s hard to believe Frank Martin is already in his 9th season in Columbia. They’ll be hoping for a second NCAA Tournament dance this year.
2019 Record: 18-13 (10-8), 6th in SEC
Key Additions: (G) Seventh Woods (UNC transfer)
South Carolina had a solid 2019 season helped along by the emergence of big man Maik Kotsar. Kotsar earned Second Team All-SEC honors in his senior and was the lone threat inside for Frank Martin’s squad. The Gamecocks used a combination of physical, hard-nosed defense and fast break opportunities to score quickly on opponents.
Carolina went 8-5 out of conference with some iffy losses to decent opponents. For the second year in a row they turned it on for conference play, highlighted by a huge home win over Kentucky. All-SEC Freshman Jermaine Couisnard dropped 26 on the Wildcats in a breakout game.
Injuries were somewhat of a factor with forward Keyshawn Bryant and Justin Minaya missing significant time. Bryant missed the first eight games in which Carolina went 5-3. A healthy Bryant and Minaya will make a big difference for 2020.
Projected Starting Lineup: AJ Lawson (G, Jr), Jermaine Couisnard (G, So), Keyshawn Bryant (F, Jr), Justin Minaya (F, Jr), Alanzo Frink (F, Jr)
Frank Martin’s offense ranked 122 offensively in the KenPom last year while the defense ranked 50. The defense was one of the best in the SEC which helped the offense stay fast paced and score in transition.
Lawson and Couisnard are two of the better one-two guards in the conference this season. Without any offensive juggernauts added to the roster their development will be key. The pair shot 33% and 29% respectively and could be a nightmare with improvement to that part of their game. Lawson is the team’s lone 2020 All-SEC player being voted to the second team.
Alanzo Frink had a bigger role at times last season, starting 12 games. Though he’s just 6’7″ his size allows him to be passable at the post position for a team that is significantly undersized. He’s no Maik Kotsar but his intensity around the glass should help fill the void.
With healthy seasons Bryant and Minaya’s impact will be noticeable. Both are solid at crashing the boards and provide a little length and size in the starting lineup. Minaya has proven he can be a legitimate three-point threat if he can get back to his freshman year numbers.
Seventh Woods is a former top-50 prospect who never panned out at UNC. He had decent shooting percentages two years ago as a junior but turned the ball over far too much. He’s shown he can distribute the ball well and can be a significant piece to the offense if he can protect the ball.
Several sophomores will be looking to increase their role this year. Trae Hannibal and T.J. Moss are too such guys who averaged over 10 minutes per game in their rookie year. Both were extremely ineffective offensively with the lowest offensive ratings and highest turnover rate on the team.
Two more sophomores will have to help provide some size for the Gamecocks. Wildens Leveque had several starts last year and is the only player above 6’7″ on the roster. At 6’11” he is likely to be in the lineup against bigger teams to help down low. Jalyn McCreary is just 6’7″ but rebounded nearly as well as Leveque. Both players need to play smarter defensively as they committed fouls at an alarming rate last year.
The Carolina ball club has a strong core group coming back that excels on the defensive side of the ball. Offensive production will need to be addressed for this group to jump into the NCAA conversation but Lawson and Couisnard are more than ready for that job. Frank Martin should have one his best teams since the Final Four run.
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