Note: Scout.com went to its experts at each of the 12 SEC schools to put together preseason scouting reports for all the league teams while also polling our writers to determine their picks to win the division and overall league titles.
By Jonathan Jolley
The Gamecocks enter the second year of the Darrin Horn era with high expectations, as they return the majority of the roster from last season’s Co-SEC East Championship squad.
The Gamecocks are led by returning first team All-SEC point guard Devan Downey, who many believe was the best player in the conference a year ago. The lightning-quick senior, who is known as one of the top clutch players in America, averaged 20 points, 5 assists and 3 steals per game last season, and he has amassed an astounding 192 steals the past two years.
Simply put, Downey is the heart and soul of the South Carolina basketball team, and his decision to return for his senior year gives the Gamecocks hope for an NCAA tournament berth and the ability to challenge for the division title again this season.
Senior forward Dominique Archie, the Robin to Downey’s Batman on the Gamecock basketball team, is a versatile and explosive player in the paint who averaged 11 points and 6 rebounds a year ago, while developing the reputation for being one of the SEC’s premier defenders.
Archie, a second-team All-SEC selection as a junior, flirted with the idea of foregoing his senior season, but he returned with Downey to improve his draft stock and help lead Carolina basketball to a successful 2009-2010 campaign. Archie and Downey both made the All-SEC defensive team a year ago.
Archie, who splits time at small forward and power forward, will be joined by returning frontcourt mates Mike Holmes and Sam Muldrow, who both put together solid sophomore seasons last year.
Holmes averaged 11 points and 8 rebounds at power forward last winter, being known for his steady and dependable play on both sides of the ball. Muldrow, who was suspended for the first half of last season, came on strong in SEC play and served as a defensive force in the paint, averaging five rebounds and two blocks per game at center. Muldrow, who has improved his offensive repertoire heading into this year, added six points per game last season.
Shooting guard Brandis Raley-Ross will be asked to fill in for the lone departing contributor from last season, Zam Frederick. Raley-Ross averaged seven points and provided a consistent spark off the bench as a junior last year, earning the SEC’s Sixth Man-of-the-Year Award. Other returning contributors include sharp-shooting forward Evka Baniulis and rangy forward Austin Steed, who both contributed off the bench last season.
The Gamecocks welcome four newcomers from the 2009 signing class, headlined by high-flying wingman Lakeem Jackson. The heralded North Carolina product is expected to contribute immediately as an energy player off the bench, and has already drawn rave reviews from his coaches and teammates for his ability to finish at the rim and for his underrated play on the defensive end of the floor.
Combo guard Ramon Galloway will spell Downey at the point and also play some shooting guard this season, while outstanding shooter Steve Spinella could provide energy off the bench as well. JUCO big man Johndre Jefferson will shore up the depth down low and has already impressed in practice with his presence on defense and on the boards.
Overall, this year’s edition of South Carolina basketball features a veteran and athletic squad, with proven depth and the potential for strong contributions off the bench from the talented newcomers. Much like last season, the Gamecocks will play an up-tempo and aggressive brand of basketball under Horn.
The Gamecocks aren’t getting the same amount of preseason publicity as their SEC-East rivals Kentucky, Tennessee, and Florida, but they are a confident, proven bunch that hopes to build on last year’s success and challenge for the division crown again this season.
SEC Predicted Order of Finish
4. South Carolina
1. Mississippi State
2. Ole Miss
Overall League Champion: Kentucky