south carolina basketball preview

South Carolina Basketball 2016-17 Season Preview

South Carolina needs to exorcise some demons.

South Carolina’s preview has a bit of a Halloween sort of an open because last season was part horror show and part snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.  Frank Martin’s team is half new blood and half traumatized by the events of last season.  South Carolina came ever so close to getting into the NCAA Tournament and a combination of their own schedule and the heroics of J.J. Frazier kept them out.  Then an off-the-court incident involving nearly half of the team completely decimated the roster in the NIT and created a need to fill roster spots immediately.

South Carolina Scholarship Distribution

See a lot of new names there?  Well, there are two good reasons why the roster is composed this way and Frank Martin actually had no role in it.

  1. Michael Carrera, Laimonas Chatkevicius and Mindaugas Kacinas graduated.
  2. He had to dismiss a good number of student-athletes that were involved in a vandalism incident at the end of last season, which decimated the South Carolina roster and left the team vulnerable to an epic beating by Georgia Tech at the Colonial Life Arena.

The Gamecocks were insulted by the NCAA Tournament Committee after getting the wrong text message from the NCAA concerning travel plans on Selection Sunday.  Turns out, the text was intended for Vanderbilt and it was a very bad day for the NCAA as they had their brackets leaked in the middle of the Selection Show.

South Carolina’s schedule last season was a bit of a paper tiger and they could have been dancing last season if not for three losses to Georgia.  The sweep by UGA was not swept under the bed by South Carolina during the offseason.  J.J. Frazier is actually living rent-free in the minds of the South Carolina Gamecocks.  This season South Carolina will get at least two cracks at Georgia in their schedule to exorcise last season’s toughest losses.

Frank Martin’s teams play ferocious, physical man-to-man defense that can wear down an opponent for their next game.  Coming up later in this article, a look at South Carolina’s Spread Motion Offense.

South Carolina Roster, Lost Contributions and Featured Members of the Roster

South Carolina’s offense was at their best last season and the team’s defense took a small step back from the previous season.  Frank Martin’s teams have typically been fast paced and this past season’s team was his fastest at South Carolina.  However, in this upcoming season, Ken Pomeroy projects a faster pace for next season’s team and it seems rather accurate.  The loss of Kacinas, Chatkevicius and Eric Cobb represents an opportunity to run up-and-down the floor much more.  Sedee Keita is a Combo Forward who prefers a faster pace and he is the most crucial newcomer to the South Carolina frontcourt.

South Carolina’s biggest loss was Michael Carrera, not just from the production, but also the leadership and toughness he provided.  Carrera was a gritty player who made the necessary hustle plays to win.  South Carolina’s backcourt remains intact and should be strong, but the frontcourt was completely gutted.

Expect TeMarcus Blanton to have a bigger role in the offense and PJ Dozier will be more confident this season.  South Carolina will be able to make up for the losses in perimeter shooting, but the interior scoring is the key question.

South Carolina was not a team that was very inclined to shoot three point shots frequently.  However, this squad may have a different approach.  South Carolina was not attempting shots in the restricted arc and was below average as far as their shooting percentage in this area.  South Carolina took the 44th highest percentage of their shots between 4 and 20 feet and they were not strong in this area.

South Carolina as mentioned previously was a fast paced team in 2015-16 and they should be a faster paced team in 2016-17.  They took 23.6% of their shots in transition, but they were not exactly effective compared to other programs when doing so (52.3% effective Field Goal rate – 274th best in the country).

Their defense kept opponents out of the restricted arc.  28.2% of opponent shots were in the restricted arc (30th best in the country) and 12.3% of shots attempted in this zone were blocked.  Credit Chris Silva for this success.  Opponents were shooting plenty of three point shots against the Gamecocks, 41.1% of opponent shots were from beyond the arc (26th highest in the country), but the three point shots did land as opponents were actually above-average from three point range (35.6%).

Featured Members of the South Carolina Roster

PJ Dozier

Dozier needs to improve significantly on the offensive end.  For all of the accolades that he had in High School, he did not live up to the hype at least as a Freshman.  It is why patience is absolutely necessary with highly regarded Freshmen that are not deemed to be immediately NBA-ready.  Even some NBA-ready prospects struggle in their first year of College Hoops, just ask Malik Newman or Skal Labissiere.

Dozier has plenty of room for improvement and he should be a better shooter from the perimeter this season, unless he has a serious case of the yips.  Dozier’s best asset last season was his defensive prowess and with a coach like Frank Martin, there is every reason to believe he will be even better this season.

Sindarius Thornwell

Sindarius Thornwell is the likely starting Point Guard for the Gamecocks after Marcus Stroman left the program.  Stroman was groomed to be the Gamecocks’ Point Guard, but the leader of this team on and off the court is now Thornwell.  Thornwell had a much improved Junior season and he will be called upon to help South Carolina break through and reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004.

Thornwell can do everything on the floor for South Carolina, he can dribble-drive, take the mid-range jumper, knock down a three (he is an average three point shooter), set up his teammates, be a floor general, be the lead defender in man-to-man and the critical plays.  All of the pressure is also put on his shoulders and often times as Thornwell goes as does his team.  It actually is surprising that Thornwell has not attained a triple-double in his tenure at South Carolina.

When Thornwell is scoring it is a good thing for South Carolina, but his contributions as a distributor, defender and rebounder are what makes the difference for South Carolina.  It should be pointed out that when Thornwell shot better than 25% from three point range, the Gamecocks were 16-2 last season.

Duane Notice

Duane Notice is South Carolina’s best three point shooter and he needs to take more three point attempts.  He falls into the trap too often of taking long two point jump shots off the dribble and it typically ends up with a miss.

Notice has been less involved on the glass and is an average defender who does a good job staying out of foul trouble.

Notice’s main contribution is his shooting ability.  He needs to get shots in rhythm on the outside and he needs to be an option on every possession when he is on the floor.  South Carolina was 9-1 last season when Notice made three or more three point shots in a game.  Notice has to get better quality looks.

Chris Silva

Chris Silva is a fouling machine, but he also is potentially one of the best shot blockers and rebounders in the conference.  Silva is dark-horse All-SEC Defensive Team member.  His defensive efficiency is strong, but he has a strong offensive efficiency in spite of a weak shooting percentage for a post inside the restricted arc.

Silva’s worst games from last season were all against Georgia.

Silva needs to improve on offense and defend without fouling.  It’s going to be very hard for him as he will be the lead interior presence on this team and he is going to be targeted.  The rest of the frontcourt is inexperienced playing at this level.

South Carolina’s Expected Starting Lineup

PG:  Sindarius Thornwell

SG:  Duane Notice

3G:  PJ Dozier

Combo:  Sedee Keita

PF:  Chris Silva

Film Room:  Gamecock Style

Let’s examine the South Carolina Spread Offense. Watch where these guys go and the explanation will follow.

South Carolina’s initial offensive look is typically two on the perimeter toward the top of the key with a flat level of two on the perimeter on the wings and one at the High Post whether it be on the elbows or the Free Throw Line.  It is a 2-3 initial look from the offense and it is rather spread out.  From that point, the action begins and one of the players on the perimeter can drop down and join the other inside the perimeter or two that were on the perimeter would end up replacing the one that was initially inside.

It is an offense that starts off technically 4 out 1 in and then once the offense starts transforms into a 3 out 2 in offense.  Who moves in and out is based on the way that the opponent is defending.  The above is actually a classic set play that this South Carolina offense has run plenty of times and it is a play that Brad Underwood’s Oklahoma State team will probably run a lot too.  South Carolina runs some sets and some motion, this is a set play.  There is a designed chin screen, which was clumsily performed too far down as the Free Throw Line screener, Kacinas, had a defender on him that was ready for help defense closer to the basket than desired.  If Kacinas was above the elbow still on the white line, Charles Mitchell, would not have been able to provide the necessary defensive support for the cutting P.J. Dozier.

Kacinas set another screen to free up Sindarius Thornwell immediately afterward and Thornwell cut across to replace on the perimeter as he was no threat to get a pass and score due to the clustered defense.  What South Carolina did was move almost all of the Georgia Tech defenders to one side of the floor to allow a ball screen and roll opportunity on the other side from Justin McKie.

This was South Carolina’s final game of the season and at this point, they should be crisp in their sets and familiar with their own Half Court Offense.  However, it is amazing how in another game that they lost two months prior, how they were unable to get into their basic, stabilizing initial offensive look.

Much of the South Carolina-Tennessee game, South Carolina looked uncomfortable offensively and was rather out-of-sync.  Nobody was in the right places and everything seemed unnecessarily rushed in the Half Court Offense.  It was a sloppy game and South Carolina was getting away from what they do best.  This was the second South Carolina Half Court possession of this game that resembled the typical Spread Offense that they like to employ.  In this possession, the man that was ‘in’ (Chatkevicius) was not at the high post, but rather closer to the low post.

There were times in this game when South Carolina would have three offensive players inside the perimeter and it just looked stilted.  A lot of these problems may have had to do with the matchup against a very undersized Tennessee team.  The logic may have been to put more big bodies down lower than usual and it just did not mesh with the way this team is comfortable playing on offense.

Tennessee went 2-3 Zone against South Carolina and what is nice about the South Carolina offense when it is functional is that the shift from a 4 out 1 in to 3 out 2 in within the sets and motion can be extremely effective at determining whether an opponent is playing zone.

There was a 2-3 look from South Carolina on offense with 4 out 1 in.  Chatkevicius and Stroman were at the top of the key.  Chatkevicius cuts down to the post and the immediate observation is that no one followed him like it was a man-to-man.  This could be a case of a simple switch in the man-to-man rather than zone, but the Tennessee defenders doubling up at the top of the key and then pinching on the wing when Michael Carrera collected the pass on the perimeter confirmed the zone.  Duane Notice was left all alone on the other side and he used his well-deserved shooting reputation to set himself up for a tear drop in the lane.

What to Expect from the South Carolina Gamecocks

Not an easy schedule for the Gamecocks in the non-conference.  Louisiana Tech is a tough draw in the opener and they will run up and down with South Carolina all game long.  Monmouth is not going to be easy either.

South Carolina will face Michigan’s 1-3-1 Defense and 5 Out offensive looks, which will be tantalizing.  Michigan also has better talent than South Carolina and this should be tough.  South Carolina will play at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to face Syracuse, which should be a de facto home game for the Orange.  Syracuse’s 2-3 Zone Defense will test South Carolina’s ability to communicate on offense and play patiently.

South Carolina returns to New York to face Seton Hall in Manhattan, which means that South Carolina will play in two of the five boroughs.  Seton Hall plays a 2-3 Matchup Zone and likes to press a bit.  Seton Hall is a talented team even without Isaiah Whitehead.

Frank Martin’s squad follows that game up with a trip to Tampa to face South Florida.  South Florida is dreadful and Frank Martin’s team should blow the doors off the Bulls.  Absolute Blowout Winner.

South Carolina will host Clemson in an intriguing game.  Are the Clemson Tigers “man enough” to beat South Carolina at the Colonial Life Arena?  Lots of good matchups here and Elijah Thomas will be playing for Clemson.

South Carolina closes their non-conference schedule at Memphis.  This will not be as easy as last season, but it is an excellent prep game for the trip to Stegeman Coliseum.

South Carolina has to exorcise the demons and beat UGA.  Losing to Georgia at Stegeman Coliseum on January 4 could be a momentum breaker that could get into this team’s psyche.  This team cannot just turn around and host Texas A&M like nothing happened against Georgia, if they lose.  Rarely are games of a must-win nature in early January, but one loss can spiral into a six game losing streak.

Another intriguing part of the South Carolina schedule would be from February 15-21.  Hosting Arkansas and then traveling to Vanderbilt and Florida back-to-back.  This is a brutal stretch and the consolation is that the Gamecocks come back home to face Tennessee and Mississippi State.

South Carolina has a good starting lineup and even a good backcourt, especially when Rakym Felder’s indefinite suspension ends.  However, the depth is a problem and the interior play is not going to be like last season.  Michael Carrera was able to play inside and out unlike anyone else in the conference.  The Lithuanian big men are gone and what is left behind is not only unproven, but unfamiliar.  Chemistry is crucial for this South Carolina team and when half the team is familiar with each other and the other half is not, it is a recipe for a season that will not go as hoped.

Dozier, Thornwell and Notice had their opportunity to make it to the NCAA Tournament last season and now the window is closed due to off-the-court issues of now former teammates.  It would be a big deal if South Carolina can finish in the top half of the SEC and reach the NIT.  Can they do it?  Give them a 30% shot of accomplishing that.  They could go .500 in the conference, the SEC is not THAT good.