Welcome to The Sports Bank’s third annual college basketball season preview series. Two years we looked at 99 teams in 99 days. Last year, we were slightly more aggressive and expanded to 111 teams in 111 days and will do so again as we look ahead to the 2012-2013 season.
We will rank the 75 power conference teams and top 36 mid-majors in reverse power ranking order. We’ll break down rosters, transfers, incoming freshmen, non-conference schedules, and pick a player to watch for each team.
How the South Carolina Gamecocks lured Frank Martin away from Kansas State is still one of the great mysteries of this college basketball off-season. Martin will certainly have his work cut out for him since the Gamecocks lost three starters from last year’s team that finished dead last in the SEC.
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS
Last season: 12th, 2-14 in SEC, 10-21 overall
Projected SEC Finish: 9th
Projected Depth Chart
F/C: Laimonas Chatkevicius (Fr)/Carlton Geathers (So)
F: Lakeem Jackson (Sr)/Mindaugas Kacinas (Fr)/Michael Carrera (Fr)
SF: R.J. Slawson (Jr)/Thaddeus Hall (Fr)
SG: Damien Leonard (So)/Brian Richardson (Jr)/Brenton Williams (Jr)
PG: Bruce Ellington (Jr)/Eric Smith (Jr)/Tarrik Phillip (Fr)
Gone: F-Malik Cooke, F-Anthony Gill (transfer-Virginia), F/C-Damontre Harris (transfer-Florida)
Besides the graduation of leading scorer Malik Cooke, South Carolina suffered a huge loss when Damontre Harris and Anthony Gill decided to transfer after Martin’s hiring. The new head coach did receive one piece of good news though when two-sport athlete Bruce Ellington announced he would just play basketball this season. The team’s second leading scorer in 2011-12, Ellington was also on the Gamecock football team the past two seasons but decided to focus solely on hoops from here on out.
Ellington will likely be joined in the starting backcourt by Damien Leonard who started twenty games a year ago as a freshman. He really struggled with his shot and proved to be at his best when in attack mode. Eric Smith started 23 games last season and will push for playing time at guard along with key reserve Brenton Williams. Brian Richardson took a step back last year as a sophomore but should factor into the rotation on the wing while freshman point guard Tarik Phillip will find playing time hard to come by.
The frontcourt is undergoing a major overhaul. Lakeem Jackson and R.J. Slawson were role players for Darrin Horn last year but will be asked to take on much bigger roles. Both guys rely more on their energy and length to be productive which means scoring at the forward spot will come at a minimum.
A trio of freshmen will compete to earn minutes at forward. At 6-6, Michael Carrera is an under-sized power forward but has a knack for crashing the glass. Minda Kacinas brings more versatility to the floor with his face-up game while Thaddeus Hall is a prototypical athletic wing who is at his best off the bounce.
Laimonas Chatkevicius is the most heralded of SC’s five freshmen and chose to follow Martin to Columbia after originally committing to Kansas State. Chatkevicius is a versatile seven-footer who has range out to the three-point, can score with his back to the basket, and runs the floor well. The Gamecocks will be very thin up-front due to redshirt sophomore Carlton Geathers suffering a fractured knee cap that could keep him out until at least mid-January.
If Martin wasn’t head coach at South Carolina, they would easily be dropped down several spots in my rankings. Due to his history of coaching guys up and getting his teams to play physical and at an extremely high level on the defensive end, I will give him the benefit of the doubt despite how under-sized his roster will be. Scoring will also be a major concern for this team that averaged just 61 points per game last year.
Player to Watch: Bruce Ellington
As the only returning player to average more than seven points per game last year, Ellington will shoulder the load for SC on offense which is a tall task to ask of a 5’9 player. Because of his football background, Ellington is obviously a very physical 5’9 and never backs down from a bigger opponent. His quickness should also be well-liked by Martin on the defensive end but he must find a better balance between smart and reckless with the ball in his hands.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/29 at St. John’s (Big East/SEC Challenge)
OTHER 111 IN 111’S:
#98 Seton Hall Pirates
#99 Georgia Bulldogs
#100 DePaul Blue Demons
#101 Boston College Eagles
#102 Penn State Nittany Lions
#103 Arizona State Sun Devils
#104 Virginia Tech Hokies
#105 Texas Tech Red Raiders
#106 Auburn Tigers
#107 Wake Forest Demon Deacons
#108 TCU Horned Frogs
#109 Mississippi State Bulldogs
#110 Utah Utes
#111 Nebraska Cornhuskers
David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank. He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and is a former contributor at The Washington Times Communities. David has appeared on numerous national radio programs spanning from Cleveland to New Orleans to Honolulu. He also had the most accurate 2011 NBA Mock Draft and the most accurate 2012 NBA Mock Draft on the internet (Yup, repeat champ… #humblebrag.)
You can follow him on Twitter at David_Kmiecik.