The South Carolina Fighting Gamecocks. Picked to finish FOURTH in the Eastern Division of the SEC.
The South Carolina Fighting Gamecocks struggled to a 6-10 conference season last year, and 15-15 overall. After beating Mississippi State in the SEC tournament, they were eliminated by Kentucky. They were selected for the NIT, but were defeated by Connecticut in the first round. All of this wasn't good enough to save Coach Eddie Fogler his job, and Dave Odom has arrived from a successful stint at Wake Forest to replace Fogler. Odom brings energy and optimism and is likely to prove to be a more effective recruiter than Fogler. He isn't entirely without hope in his first season at South Carolina, having inherited a team of nine veterans and four newcomers, three of whom were signed after his arrival. Gone are two seniors, 6'5" Antonio Grant (7.9 ppg, 5.8 rebounds) and 6'5" David Ross (3.7 ppg), plus two others who decided to transfer: 6'7" junior Calvin Clemmons (4.1 ppg, 2.6 rebounds) and 6'7" sophomore Travis Kraft, who was redshirted last year due to an injury, but not before he won one game with a last-minute shot. South Carolina should be good enough to finish fourth in the SEC east, with a possibility of third if Buzz Peterson has trouble making his primadonnas at Tennessee play together.
Senior 5'11" point guard Aaron Lucas improved considerably as a junior (10.3 ppg, 39 steal) and easily led the team in assists, although his assists to turnover ratio (114 to 88) could stand further improvement. Lucas is not a great outside shooter but did make 32.1% of his three pointers. Backing him up is 6'2" sophomore Michael Boynton (2.2 ppg), who was coming along well near the end of the season. However, Boynton shot a feeble 21.2% from three-point territory and made almost as many turnovers (42) as assists (46). He should do better this season.
The team's leading scorer was shooting guard Jamel Bradley, a 6'2" senior, who averaged 11.5 ppg and sank 35.5% of his 214 three-point tries. Bradley also led the team in steals (40) and handed out 66 assists. Sophomore 6'5" Greg Taylor got very little playing time last year (1.2 ppg) but can shoot.
After a great freshman year, 6'7" wing forward Chuck Eidson had a disastrous sophomore season. In the first 15 games he averaged just 9.0 ppg and 5.3 rebounds, shooting a feeble 18.4% from three point range and 32.1% overall. Then it got worse; he went down with a season-ending injury (ACL tear) and dropped out of school. The first thing Odom did after he took the head coaching job was to make sure that Eidson would be in summer school and back with the team in his junior year. If recovered, he should start at wing forward, and is likely to play some shooting guard when Bradley is not in the game. Helping out, and likely to play quite a bit at both shooting guard and wing forward, is 6'5" Chris Warren from Collin County CC, Plano TX, who can shoot well from both mid-range and outside. He was recruited by Odom in June.
Rolando Howell, 6'9", 220 lbs, made the All Freshman team of the SEC last year, and should start at the power forward position. He averaged 8.6 ppg and 5.2 rebounds, and showed great promise. Two newcomers will back him up, one of them an Odom recruit, 6'7" Issa Konare, a freshman from Bridgton Academy in Maine. Konare has only three years of experience in basketball, but has advanced rapidly, and is likely to play more than Carlos Powell, 6'7", 220 lbs, from Florence SC, a possible candidate for the red shirt. Also available is Ivan Howell, 6'7" junior and older brother of Rolando, who was held out last year and didn't play much as a freshman.
This is the Gamecocks's strongest position. Tony Kitchings, 6'10". 260 lbs, averaged 10.0 ppg and 6.6 rebounds, and led the team in blocks (32). Marius Petravicius, 6'10", 250 lbs, scored 8.5 ppg and snared 4.7 rebounds. They usually alternate, but Fogler sometimes had them in the lineup simultaneously, and they could present the opposition with serious problems. Petravicius is an aggressive handful and Kitchings is the better scorer. Odom signed a third center candidate, 6'10" freshman John Chappell, the 235 lbs son of former Wake Forest All-American Len Chappell, who averaged 10.0 ppg and 10 rebounds last year at Fork Union Academy. The slick-passing Chappell might be redshirted if Kitchings, Petravicius, and Howell stay healthy.
The Gamecocks may be stronger at the center position than any other SEC team. Rolando Howell should be a powerhouse at power forward, so rebounding should be good. The team has plenty of experience, especially in Lucas, Bradley, Eidson (if he is OK), Kitchings, and Petravicius. The Gamecocks played strong defense under Fogler and Odom will probably get just as much from them in that area.
Last year's team was very weak in outside shooting and that situation may continue to prevail unless Eidson and Warren can improve it. Eidson is a question mark. The players will be learning to operate under a new coach and a new system.
Obviously a lot depends on Eidson. He seemed on the verge of becoming a star, and then things came apart for him. Warren is the other key; if he is as good as some think, he will greatly improve the team on the wings. Look for a winning season, and the team to be on the NCAA bubble at the end.