Despite Disappointment, South Carolina’s Arrow Still Pointing UpPosted by Greg Mitchell on March 23rd, 2016
South Carolina‘s season came to an end on Monday night with a loss in the NIT. For a program that has been to a national postseason tournament only 18 other times, playing in a March event of any kind is a success on its own. Last week Frank Martin called missing out on the NCAA Tournament a “tough pill to swallow” for a team that put together an undefeated non-conference season, won a school record 24 regular season games, and went 11-7 in the SEC. That disappointment may have carried over into the NIT, as the Gamecocks beat overmatched High Point last week before sleepwalking through a 17-point second round home loss to Georgia Tech.
The Selection Committee’s snub wasn’t a happy day for South Carolina basketball. “It was hurtful; it was disappointing,” senior Laimonas Chatkevicius said at the time. The governing body’s decision represented the first time that a power conference team had been left out of the Dance after winning at least 24 games, but the sting of that disappointment shouldn’t mitigate the positive momentum the Gamecocks built this season. Martin’s team nearly doubled its conference win total from six to 11 and has posted top-40 KenPom defenses in each of the last two years. Being a regularly competitive SEC team (including a win over co-champion Texas A&M) is just not something this program typically does.
The big question now will be whether South Carolina can take the next step in the maturation of a program after losing its best player and most consistent scorer, Michael Carrera. The Gamecocks will also lose two other solid frontcourt contributors in Chatkevicius and Mindaugas Kacinas. Two players who have been an important part of Martin’s complete rebuild in Columbia, Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice, are expected to be back for their last hurrahs. Neither has taken the jump to an all-SEC level that seemed likely earlier in their careers, but you could have said the same thing about Carrera before this season. Notice, to his credit, just posted his best shooting year (39.6% 3FG), and both will be heavily relied upon next season.
Martin suspended five players prior to the Gamecocks’ NIT opener last week. Two of these players, Jamall Gregory and TeMarcus Blanton are currently released on bond after being charged with property crimes. Fellow freshman Chris Silva was also in that group of five, but if he survives, he is the type of athletic rim-protector that Martin has yet to have at South Carolina (7.3% block rate). P.J. Dozier, a freshman who turned the ball over way too much and never found his offensive comfort zone, has tremendous athletic upside and plans to return.
Judging from early February forward, this season probably feels like a disappointment. From a big-picture view, however, this is still one of the programs the SEC should feel good about in its ongoing quest to put #SECBasketballFever to rest. Martin returns the core of a team that should again be competitive, and even if South Carolina might not challenge for the league title next season, it should be an upper-tier conference team well within the conversation for an NCAA Tournament bid.