What to watch for

As the season tips off Friday, Gamecock Anthem's Josh Capers offers his opinion on 10 things to look for this season.

1. Fifth year guidance: I expect to see the emergence of Malik Cooke as a leader. Cooke is the lone senior on the roster, but it's only his third year with the team and second on the court. Last year, he had to learn how to fit in the system, but with these two years under his belt and team full of youngsters, expect to see him embrace the leadership role. Whether the coaches ask him to play the three or the four, Cooke always steps into the role and produces on the court. His hardwork and ability should rub off on the underclassmen.

2. Growing pains: With only two upperclassmen on the roster, the Gamecocks are going to be in search for their identity once again. But unlike last year, they'll be a bit more prepared. I expect to see these guys playing with nothing to lose and more focus this year. They'll take some losses they probably shouldn't, but I think they'll definitely shock some people. Finishing last in the SEC? Highly unlikely.

3. Freshmen 15: Between freshmen Damien Leonard and Anthony Gill, I expect to see them combine for about 15 points a game, and between them and redshirt freshmen Carlton Geathers, 15 rebounds. Leonard is known for his knock-down shooting ability. He'll be one of the country's best by the time he's a junior. He and Gill will adjust to the game faster than scouts realized, and I expect them to contribute in a big way.

4. 3 for all: This team should be a better 3-point shooting team compared to last year (31.3 percent). Despite losing the team's only player to hit over 35 percent of his 3s last year (Stephen Spinella), this team has more players with the ability to knock down shots from deep. Also, couple that with good shooters such as Brian Richardson and Eric Smith having a year of college under their belt, a big jump in percentages to factor in. Along with Leonard, Brenton Williams can really knock it down. Forward R.J. Slawson will knock some down, as well as Gill, who will pick up where big man Sam Muldrow left off last year from behind the arc.

5. Worth the price of admission: Though wins and losses mean a lot in basketball, this team will be fun to watch win, lose or draw. Well, maybe not draws, but you get the point. This team is really going to get at it defensively and get into the mug of opposing teams. That high pressure will turn into fast breaks, points and all things exciting that make basketball fun to watch. With athleticism all over and ability to shoot it from deep, you can forgive turnovers here and there to see Darrin Horn's up-and-down style relish with this year's team.

6. Cohesion: There's been talks of locker-room type issues in previous seasons, but this group already meshes. This group is like brothers, and I think the trust in one another will show on the court more than it has the last couple of seasons.

7. Going deep: People will see coach Horn trust his bench and go to it often. Expect to see a heavy rotation of players, but I expect to see a consistent core of players in the clutch as the best players will be put into position to make plays. It'll be the other guys' jobs to bridge that gap and help get the team to point of closing games out, and those guys will have plenty of opportunity as this team won't have many (if any) guys see more than 25 minutes a game on average.

8. Jack of all trades: The emergence of Lakeem Jackson will be unleashed. Jackson has been a consistent starter since he got on campus two years ago, but it looks like coach Horn is going to just put his five best players on the court and let them play — regardless of position. Jackson saw time at the point guard position in the team's lone exhibition game. A 6-foot-5, 240-pound point guard? Jackson is very unselfish and simply makes plays. With the ball in his hands, you can expect to see plays being made. He's far from a shoot-first guy, and for a team that ranked 313th in assists nationally last year, he should help put a dent into that stat. It hurts that Jackson and Cooke are two of South Carolina's best players and play the same position naturally. Instead of playing Cooke as an undersized four, this will give the Gamecocks the opportunity to not only go big in the front court with their better players on the court, it'll give them a huge backcourt with Jackson-Leonard or Jackson-Richardson.

9. Batman returns: You know, Bruce Wayne, Bruce Ellington… same thing. But the question is, will last year's starting point guard return to the basketball court after his stint with the football team? Personally, I expect to see him give another go at basketball. Basketball is his first love. He continues to come to workouts and functions with the team, and I think he has a lot to prove on the court still. The real question shouldn't be whether or not he comes back or not, it should be, what kind of basketball shape will he be in once he hits the hardwood again, and how will he fit in with this year's team?

10. Patience is a virtue: The basketball program has a good vibe going. Some unfortunate things have happened with the team coming into the season, but the direction the program is going in the fortune is a good one. The fans don't always understand not winning today, but letting this team progress and adding future recruits will be a good thing if coach Horn and staff are actually given the chance and support they need to get things done in Columbia.

This is the opinion of Joshua A. Capers. Follow him on twitter at @TheCapersEffect.

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