Commentary: USC Men's Basketball Preview

"South Carolina basketball is building an NIT dynasty!" That is what fans and analysts jokingly said after the Gamecocks defeated Michigan to secure their second consecutive NIT Championship this past spring in storied Madison Square Garden. The Gamecocks became the second team ever to defend the NIT Title, joining only St. John's, who accomplished the feat in 1943 and 1944.

Last season the Gamecocks were led by senior shooting guard Tarence Kinsey and a trio of talented juniors in Tre Kelley, Brandon Wallace and NIT MVP Renaldo Balkman. However, Tarence Kinsey graduated and signed a free agent contract with the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies, while Renaldo Balkman tested the waters in the NBA Draft and was rewarded by becoming the 20th overall selection by the New York Knicks. That leaves only Tre Kelley and the lanky Brandon Wallace to lead this year‘s Gamecocks, but they will be joined by a host of new and youthful faces. After two years of NIT dominance, can Kelly and Wallace lead the Gamecocks to "The Big Dance" this season? That's the question that is asked this year of Carolina Basketball.

With the loss of Balkman, athletic redshirt freshman Dominique Archie will be asked to fill an important role on the interior this season. At 6'7 and 205 pounds, Archie is a natural small forward, but he will be asked to play some power forward for the Gamecocks this year as well. Archie, who was considered one of the premier basketball prospects in the country coming out of high school, has the unenviable task of attempting to fill the shoes of Renaldo Balkman this season. Can he do it? Only time will tell.

The Gamecocks lack size inside, with Brandon Wallace being the only significant interior player returning from last year's squad. Physical junior Ousmane Konate is also returning fifteen pounds lighter, but despite carrying an imposing 6'10, 270 pound frame, Konate is fundamentally still a work in progress on the hardwood.

Carolina returns a veteran back court with senior point guard Tre Kelley and sharpshooter Bryce Sheldon. Kelley is a preseason 3rd team All-SEC performer, but he has been outspoken in the pre-season, stating that he feels disrespected by only being named to the third team. He led the Gamecocks all of last season as the undisputed floor general, and he will look to once again let his play do the talking this season. Sheldon brings a deadly 3-point threat to the back court. After being used mostly as a situational reserve a year ago, he should contribute a lot more this season. The player that will round out the Gamecock backcourt, and the one who this writer believes will show the most improvement this season, is versatile junior Dwayne Day. The soft spoken wing player could be the leading 3-point shooter in the SEC if he stays healthy and focused. Day has shown flashes of brilliance the last two seasons, and if pre-season reports are accurate, this may be the year that he finally puts it all together.

The Gamecocks are bringing in five new recruits this year, a couple of which will be relied upon to provide depth this season. The newcomer that will likely see the most playing time this season is Evaldas Baniulis, who is a versatile 6'7 forward that offers a legitimate threat from the outside. Another freshman who may see some playing time due to the lack of size inside will be center Mitchell Carter. The 6'10, 273 pound man child will be a work in progress this year, but he can provide some much needed muscle off the bench.

Finally, it comes down to South Carolina Head Coach Dave Odom. He believes that this team has the potential to make "The Big Dance" and play at a high level throughout the entire year. Odom is a coach that, when given promising young talent to work with, can help players realize their full potential and often mold them into stars. I think this season will be a wild one and full of surprises. The Gamecocks have a difficult schedule that will challenge them to show what they are made of, but if recent history is any indication, Carolina will make some noise in the post-season, one way or another.

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