2022-23 SEC Basketball Preview: South Carolina Gamecocks
South Carolina gamecocks
Last season: 18-13 (9-9 SEC, T-5.)
head coach: Lamont Paris (freshman year in South Carolina, 6th year overall, 87-72)
Ball possession minutes returned: 15.9 percent
Points return: 14.9 percent
Expected record: 13-18 (5-13 SECONDS)
SEC Rank: 13.
how did we get here
Turns out, a Final Four run in a place like South Carolina gives you limited equity.
Frank Martin had a solid ten-year career in South Carolina. After two years cleaning up the mess left behind by Darrin Horn, Martin had seven .500-plus seasons in eight years, with the only losing season coming when COVID-19 decimated the 2020-21 roster. A 70-72 SEC record over that stretch doesn’t sound good — until you realize that South Carolina was 45-83 in conference play in the eight years prior to his arrival. In fact, South Carolina had a track record in the SEC for the 21 seasons prior to Martin’s arrival 3 times; Martin has made it four times from 2016-20. And, right, there was the 2017 Final Four heat.
This was also the only time South Carolina reached the NCAA tournament under Martin. What, well, South Carolina made the tournament four times between 1974 and 2016 (and didn’t win a game in either of those appearances). Place like South Carolina. Martin’s problem wasn’t March, it was November and December. The team went 11-7 in the SEC in 2019 and missed the tournament with a 4-7 record going into the New Year. Last season they lost early to Coastal Carolina (at 24!) and Princeton and didn’t even make it to the NIT with a 9-9 SEC record.
Despite all that, the danger of getting rid of a trainer like this is that trading stability for a fresh start can go very wrong. You could build on that and level up, or you could be Ole Miss trading Andy Kennedy for Kermit Davis (which might still work, but it’s not looking good), or Vanderbilt trading Kevin Stallings for Bryce Drew ( what the program is). quiet probably trying to recover from that.) Obviously, we have the urge not to settle for a high-floor, low-ceiling program… but you could just lower the floor.
Anyway, Lamont Paris is in after a good five-year run in Chattanooga. Paris had a difficult start to his coaching career, going 10-23 and 12-20 in his first two seasons there; but for the past three years, Chattanooga has gone 65-29 and nearly beat Illinois in the first round of the NCAA tournament last year. Much like his freshman year in Chattanooga, he’s basically starting over. Unlike his freshman year at Chattanooga, he has a future NBA player to work with.
The portal takes away
You’ll notice a recurring theme among teams that have made managerial changes: they’re all losing big. But unlike Georgia yesterday (which returned the players it wanted to keep while losing spares and sub-substitute-level players), South Carolina lost…well, its top six scorers of last season. One of them, James Reese V (10.4 ppg/2.3 rpg), is not eligible. The others entered portal land, and like Georgia, you can read about where they ended up, but unlike Georgia, what you read about is bad news. Leading scorer Jermaine Couisnard (12.0ppg/3.2ppg) is now in Oregon, Erik Stevenson (11.6ppg/4.7rpg) went to West Virginia, promising newcomer Devin Carter (9.0ppg/3 .8 rps) went to Providence, and the Quicksilver Keyshawn Bryant (8.7 ppg/4.0 rpg) ricocheted to South Florida. Three other players – 6’11” Wildens Leveque (6.6 ppg/4.7 rpg), Brandon Martin (2.4 ppg/2.5 rpg) and 6’8″, 280-pound newcomer TaQuan Woodley (2nd .0 ppg/3.0 rpg) – followed Frank Martin to UMass.
That is a lot. The players that South Carolina lost accounted for about 85 percent of their production last season. That sounds like a typical offseason for John Calipari at the height of the One and Done era; Every other program then faces a major restructuring.
None of the five returning South Carolina grantees averaged more than 15.6 minutes per game last season.
None of them seem to be that promising either. 6’2-inch sophomore guard Jacobi Wright (3.4 ppg/1.8 apg) was a minute-leader among returns, but his efficiency last season (81.5 offensive rating) was easy terrible, with the brutal combination of low shot percentage and high turnover rate. 6’2-inch senior guard Chico Carter Jr. (4.2 ppg/0.6 apg) had major problems moving from Murray State to the SEC, despite making 11 of his 29 three-point attempts — but that was significantly fewer than the 44.2 percent he shot in his sophomore season at Murray State.
The other three returnees — 7’0″, 255-pound junior center Josh Gray (2.9 ppg/3.5 rpg), 6’7″, 253-pound junior forward Ja’Von Benson (3, 3 ppg/4.2 rpg) and 6′ 9″, 258-pound junior forward Tre-Vaughn Minott (2.0 ppg / 1.9 rpg) – were the kind of big boys that were a staple of the Frank- Martin era goods. Also a staple of the Frank Martin era, these three shot a combined 17 of 48 from the free throw line. But at least Lamont Paris knows he has greatness on the bench.
The portal there
Well, South Carolina’s most important signing didn’t actually come through the transfer portal. In July, Colombian native GG Jackson, a 6’9-inch, 215-pound Colombian native and (at the time) the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2023, announced he was reclassifying in South Carolina and would enroll.
The reclassification threw him 6th in the class of 2022, but make no mistake: Jackson is quite possibly the biggest recruit in South Carolina history and a massive coup for a freshman coach. (The reclassification also qualifies him for the 2023 NBA draft, as he turns 19 in December 2023; chances are this will be his only season in South Carolina.)
However, the four transfer acquisitions do not include any obvious difference makers. 6’2” junior guard Meechie Johnson Jr. (4.4 ppg/1.2 apg Ohio State) is a four-star former recruit who will likely be the team’s starting point guard by default despite his two seasons with the Buckeyes were “realer” disappointment” than “buried behind better players”. 6’8-inch junior forward Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk (1.6 ppg/2.1 rpg in Illinois) had a good rebound rate, at least in limited minutes. The other two signings have only been here a year: 6’6” Ebrima Dibba (8.1ppg/5.4ppg at Coastal Carolina) is an interesting all-rounder, although not a great scorer. And 6’5” Hayden Brown (18.8 ppg/9.5 rpg on The Citadel) was one of the few bright spots on a bad team.
Paris also held on to Frank Martin’s two early signers, six-foot-tall Zachary Davis of nearby Orangeburg, who is listed as a point guard; and 6’8″ Daniel Hankins-Sanford of Charlotte. Both are three-star recruits who probably won’t contribute much straight away, but nothing really stands in the way of a season if they’re ready.
With This Roster, you can write GG Jackson in ink pen in the forecourt as a starter. I mean, really, even if he’s less than advertised, he’s almost certainly the best player on this team.
Aside from that, well… Meechie Johnson is the starting point guard almost by default. One of Jacobi Wright, Ebrima Dibba or Chico Carter will likely start at the second guard spot, with Dibba serving as a backup point guard. Hayden Brown will probably start on the wing? Paris could throw one of the big Martin holdups as a real center alongside Jackson, or he could go small. Okay, maybe the non-Jackson newcomers will play because I can’t figure out who else does.
Lamont Paris’ off-conference planning strategy is bold to say the least. Three middle citizens from the state of South Carolina (State of South Carolina, USC Upstate, and Presbyterian) will be visiting along with Clemson, so that’s fun. If you’re going to buy games, at least bring opponents that will be fun for fans, rather than random teams for non-competitive games I think. It’s probably what I would do if I were a coach. The Gamecocks will also play the Charleston Classic beginning November 17, where they will open with Colorado State; The field also includes Charleston, Davidson, Furman, Old Dominion, Penn State and Virginia Tech. They’re going to DC to play both George Washington (Nov. 30) and Georgetown (Dec. 3), and going to UAB (Dec. 14) means living dangerously. Western Kentucky at home (December 22) is also difficult.
The Gamecocks got a bit lucky with the SEC schedule: Four of the five home-and-homes are Georgia, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Ole Miss, none of which are expected to be NCAA tournament teams. That alone might end up being enough to avoid the basement.
If you can’t tell, I hate this roster. If you’re giving back 15 percent of your production from the previous year, you’d better be prepared to either swallow a build-up year or get some hit players off the transfer portal. Instead, South Carolina has a disappointment from Ohio State, a man who barely got off the bench in Illinois, and a couple of intriguing mid-major guys who probably aren’t Impact players at this level. Some of them will probably start for this team.
They also have a player who is likely to be in the first few picks of the 2023 NBA draft and I can’t underestimate how much that’s worth.
However, when you look at the rest of this team, it’s hard to see how GG Jackson alone can be enough to make this team Well. But it’s easy to see Jackson making this team not horrible. Guys who are six feet tall and can do the things he can do on a basketball court don’t just grow on trees.
We’ll see how the Lamont Paris era continues; However, this season will likely be a struggle. I’ve got South Carolina just shy of last place – largely due to the presence of GG Jackson.