How Did We Get Here?
I sort of understood South Carolina fans’ disappointment with Frank Martin, who simply never capitalized on the program’s surprise Final Four run in 2017. In the five years that followed, the Gamecocks went 75-73 and didn’t make it back to the NCAA Tournament. He did the work to get South Carolina out of the hole dug by the disastrous Darrin Horn hire, but the program had plateaued. The main selling point was a 41-47 SEC record over that stretch, and that was drug down by a disastrous 2020-21 when South Carolina got hit especially hard by COVID.
On the other hand, Lamont Paris’s first team returned almost no one of note. The Gamecocks did score a commitment from five-star recruit G.G. Jackson, who reclassified and played for South Carolina last season — only, he was basically a high school senior, albeit an especially talented one. The remainder of the roster was pulled off the scrap heap, with predictable results: an 11-21 overall record, 4-14 in the SEC. Somehow, one of the four SEC wins came against Kentucky in Rupp Arena; that was promptly followed by an eight-game losing streak. The Gamecocks did manage to pick up three wins down the stretch to avoid last place, but their KenPom rating of 221 was easily the SEC’s worst.
How much have things improved for 2023-24? Three of South Carolina’s top four scorers are gone, including Jackson, who fell all the way to the second round of the NBA Draft. South Carolina does have three freshmen and four transfers entering the fold; none of them, though, are the kind of players who project to make a big difference. The Gamecocks might be improved, but they’ll still be my pick for last place.
|Player||ORating||Min %||Poss %||PPG||RPG||APG||How left|
|Player||ORating||Min %||Poss %||PPG||RPG||APG||How left|
|G.G. Jackson||91.6||78.5||29.1||15.4||5.9||0.8||NBA Draft|
|Tre-Vaughn Minott||111.4||1.4||6.9||0.4||0.3||0||transfer/Portland State|
Jackson, obviously, is the big loss here — while his freshman season at South Carolina wasn’t impressive, he didn’t turn 18 until December; unlike a lot of guys who reclassify ahead a year, he really was the age of a high school senior. (It’s worth pointing out that Jackson is a full two years younger than Alabama’s Brandon Miller was.) Hayden Brown, who transferred in from The Citadel, had his moments, and Chico Carter shot 47.6 percent from three-point range. The rest of the losses aren’t really worth mentioning — spare parts on a bad team who are probably transferring to a level more in line with their talent. Still, it feels like South Carolina is pushing the reset button... again.
If there’s good news here, South Carolina returns its starting point guard. 6’2” senior Meechie Johnson (12.7 ppg/3.7 rpg/3.6 apg) started 29 games last season and posted a 100.4 Offensive Rating — not bad enough that he needed to be replaced, though he’s hardly a guy to get excited about.
What happens off the ball is anyone’s guess. The incumbent is 6’2” junior Jacobi Wright (7.3 ppg/2.1 rpg/1.8 apg), one of the few holdovers from the Frank Martin era, who started 15 games last season. 6’4” fifth-year Ta’Lon Cooper (9.8 ppg/4.0 rpg/6.3 apg at Minnesota) is obviously here to compete for minutes, though he’s really more of a point guard. 6’6” sixth-year Ebrima Dibba (8.1 ppg/4.8 rpg/5.4 apg at Coastal Carolina in 2021-22) missed last season and will provide depth if healthy. 6’4” freshman Morris Ugusuk is an unknown, not rated by any of the recruiting services because he went to high school in Finland.
Vanderbilt fans are obviously familiar with Myles Stute (8.4 ppg/4.6 rpg/0.6 apg.) Stute might actually be South Carolina’s best player, which is, uh, telling about this roster.
Stute is one of three transfers in South Carolina’s frontcourt. 6’8” fifth-year Stephen Clark (16.3 ppg/6.5 rpg/2.8 apg at The Citadel) and 6’8” fifth-year B.J. Mack (16.6 ppg/5.6 rpg/1.4 apg at Wofford) are both proven players at the mid-major level who might or might not translate to the SEC. I’ve learned not to get too high on guys transferring up from the SoCon to the SEC. The Gamecocks also bring back a couple of experienced bigs in 7’0” senior Josh Gray (4.3 ppg/6.3 rpg/0.5 apg) and 6’8” fifth-year Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk (1.9 ppg/3.1 rpg/1.1 apg), neither of whom is much of an offensive threat, and they’ll hope to get more development out of 6’7” sophomore Zachary Davis (2.2 ppg/2.2 rpg/0.7 apg.) Notably missing here is any sort of rim protector; the closest thing to one is Clark, who averaged 1.8 blocks over his four-year career at The Citadel, but at 6’8” it’s hard to see how that translates to the SEC.
The crown jewel of South Carolina’s freshman class is 6’7” Collin Murray-Boyles, the #90 player in the 2023 class in the 247 Sports composite and a four-star recruit. He and fellow freshman Arden Conyers (#219 in the 247 Sports composite) should be able to find playing time if they’re ready to go.
With so many new faces, this is a lot of guesswork. I would bet on Johnson, Wright, and Cooper taking up most of the minutes in the backcourt, though how exactly that gets sorted out in terms of who the starters are and who’s the third guard off the bench is an open question, and Dibba could be a factor if healthy.
I’m less sure up front. Stute, as one of the few proven SEC players on the roster, should be a starter, and I’d bet on Mack starting as well — Josh Gray may be a nominal starter at center, though he probably won’t play much more than 15 minutes a game. Less clear up front is whether the two freshmen, especially Murray-Boyles, will play rotation minutes; the players ahead of them certainly won’t be much of an obstacle.
The highlights of the nonconference schedule are an early neutral-site game against Virginia Tech in Charlotte (November 10), DePaul and either Grand Canyon or San Francisco in the AZ Tip-Off in Phoenix (November 17-19), a home game against Notre Dame in the ACC/SEC Challenge (November 28), and a trip to Clemson (December 6.) There are a couple of potentially tricky games aside from that with a trip to East Carolina (December 9) and a home game against Winthrop (December 19); aside from that, South Carolina will play six teams ranked outside the KenPom top 200. Going 10-3 against the nonconference slate is a reasonable goal.
In SEC play, South Carolina will play Tennessee, Georgia, Missouri, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss twice each. Getting Tennessee twice isn’t ideal, but aside from that this isn’t a ridiculous conference schedule,
Of the six second-year coaches in the SEC, Paris probably inspires the least confidence in me, both based on his pedigree prior to taking the job (one NCAA trip in five years at Chattanooga after seven years as an assistant at Wisconsin) and based on what he did in his first year (not much.)
What’s more, this roster doesn’t appear to be much better than it was when the Gamecocks went 11-21 last season. South Carolina’s portal haul isn’t that impressive — B.J. Mack at 110 is the highest in the 247 Sports transfer rankings — and while Murray-Boyles is highly regarded as a high school recruit, he’s not in the range of instant impact freshmen.
There are a couple of other SEC teams with question marks, but there aren’t any with as many as this team has. This is the least impressive roster in the SEC and as such I have them finishing 14th.
Season prediction: 12-19 (3-15 SEC)