Sunday, December 11, 2016

Getting to know South Carolina

Frank Martin and South Carolina bring undefeated record to Madison Square Garden, taking on Seton Hall in Under Armour Reunion event. (Photo by CBS Sports)

Seton Hall returns to Madison Square Garden for the first time since leaving with the Big East championship in tow, as the Pirates come across the Hudson River Monday night to face undefeated South Carolina, ranked 19th in the nation.

While the Pirates may have a better chance against Frank Martin's Gamecocks following the suspension of Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina's guards are not a unit to be taken lightly. Sophomore PJ Dozier, whose game-winning basket in overtime thwarted an upset bid by Monmouth, has elevated himself in Thornwell's absence to become one of the lead forces in Columbia. And while a front line anchored by do-it-all warrior Michael Carrera has transitioned and gotten younger, the Gamecocks still have pieces such as Roselle Catholic product Chris Silva to make life difficult in the lane for Angel Delgado.

To further educate us on South Carolina, longtime friend of the site Gary Moore; best known for his outstanding work operating The College Hardwood, gives the inside scoop on the Gamecocks and where they can pose the biggest threat to the Pirates. Gary has covered the program inside and out for the past four years in much the same vein he did the mid-majors here in New York before hauling his tack to the Palmetto State, and spares no expense in informing us of what Seton Hall's next opponent brings to the floor:

Hi, this is Gary Moore from The College Hardwood, with a preview of the undefeated University of South Carolina Gamecocks, who take on the Seton Hall Pirates Monday night.

Starting Guards – The indefinite suspension of senior Sindarius Thornwell has cast a cloud over a program that had been basking in the glow of eight straight wins to start the season. Thornwell, a first team All-SEC Defensive Player last season, was putting up the best offensive numbers of his career before his suspension. Thornwell has been a stat stuffer, averaging nearly nineteen points and almost seven rebounds per game. He also averages four assists, one-and-a-half steals and a block per game, all while shooting forty-eight percent from both the field and from beyond the arc.  

Sophomore guard PJ Dozier has stepped up his game, averaging nearly thirteen points, four-and-a-half rebounds and two-and-a-half assists per game. Dozier has also been shooting forty-five percent both from the field and from beyond the arc. Duane Notice, the third starting guard, averages 11.5 points and three assists per game. Notice is shooting thirty-nine percent from beyond the arc.

Starting Forwards - Head coach Frank Martin had a big chore at the start of the season. His entire starting frontcourt from last season of Michael Carrera, Laimonas Chatkevicius and Mindaugas Kacinas all graduated. The three of them accounted for nearly 35 points and 18 rebounds per game. Sophomore Chris Silva and a trio of talented freshmen; Malik Kotsar, Sedee Keita and Khadim Gueye are trying their best to fill the void. Silva and Kotsar start, but Keita and Gueye have seen a lot of minutes lately. Right now, the four big men combine for 21 points and 14 rebounds.

Bench – With Thornwell out, the Gamecocks go about nine-deep. Senior guard Justin McKie and sophomore guard Hassani Gravett each average 19 minutes per game, while freshman Rakym Felder averages over twelve minutes per game. Despite losing their starting frontcourt, the Gamecocks are averaging nearly as many points per game (74) this season as they did last season (76). Martin continues to recruit internationally, with Kotsar from Estonia, Gueye from Senegal and reserve forward Ran Tut from Australia.

Coach/Intangibles - Frank Martin in his fifth season with the Gamecocks.  In each season he has coached, the Gamecocks have improved:

2012-13: 14-18, 4-14 SEC
2013-14: 14-20, 5-13 SEC
2014-15: 17-16, 6-12 SEC
2015-16: 25-9, 11-7 SEC; eliminated in second round of NIT
2016-17: Currently 7-0, ranked #28 in USA Today Coaches' Poll and #19 in AP Top 25 Poll

Martin’s signature teams at Kansas State were as known for their defense as Frank Martin is for his stare. He finally has that at South Carolina, as the Gamecocks are third in the country in scoring defense, allowing only 55.5 points per game. They are also second in field goal percentage defense at 33.7 percent and eighth in three point field goal percentage defense at 25.9 percent.  

The Gamecocks have speed and length on defense, especially at guard; as Thornwell is six-foot-five, Dozier is six-foot-six and the reserve McKie is six-foot-four. The South Carolina bigs; Kotsar, Silva, Seita, and Gueye are all six-foot-nine or taller. This helps them on the boards as the Gamecocks are twenty-fifth in the country in rebound margin.

Outlook – The 2016-17 Gamecocks have better athleticism, size and depth than at any time in Coach Martin’s tenure. They only have three seniors – Thornwell, Notice and McKie, plus next season they will have eligible high scoring Delaware transfer Kory Holden. South Carolina has several impressive wins to their credit, an 18-point home win over then-#25 Michigan and 14-point neutral site win over then-#16 Syracuse, plus wins over Monmouth, Vermont and Louisiana Tech, and three over .500 teams with a combined record of 20-10. South Carolina’s average margin of victory in their last five games is 21 points.

However, the suspension of Thornwell for an indefinite period certainly does not bode well for the Gamecocks, especially against a Pirates team that shoots nearly 50 percent from the field, has four double-figure scorers and averages 78 points per game. Their size will be tested by the Pirates’ Angel Delgado, who averages a double-double per game (13.6 ppg, 10.9 rpg). Khadeen Carrington, who would have likely been guarded by Thornwell, has been a scoring machine, shooting fifty-five percent from three and fifty-four percent overall. Dozier will likely get the assignment.

A win over Seton Hall Monday night in the Under Armour Reunion at Madison Square Garden would be another notch in the at large resume for the Gamecocks. It’s going to be a tall task without Thornwell, but unlike previous years, Frank Martin’s team has the depth and the length to compete with the Pirates.

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