We've now seen enough Gamecocks basketball to have some sense of what this team needs to do to have another successful run in the SEC this year. Here's how I see it:
1. Outside Shooting
We have shot the ball woefully in the majority of our games. That's not only hurt our ability to hit treys but also allowed teams to use soft zone defenses to keep Devan Downey out of the lane. We've been able to make up for that at times by scoring easy buckets off our press, but with the defense suffering due to the loss of Dominique Archie and Mike Holmes, we're going to need to both shoot the ball well and get those points off turnovers to score enough points to win the shootouts that I expect many of our games will be. Darrin Horn has said that we will see a new emphasis on creating open shots for our shooting, and that should solve part of the problem. We have shooters in the lineup, but we haven't always been very disciplined in our half-court sets.
2. Maintain Intensity while Playing Smart in the Press
We've tended to win turnover margin with our press, and that's what has won us most of our games. However, we've also at times made too many mistakes and given up lots of points in transition against better teams. Giving up some transition points while playing our style is inevitable; when you take risks, you're bound to to pay sometimes. The goal, though, is to make your opponent make more mistakes than you do, and we haven't always done that due to sloppy play. We need to maintain discipline while still forcing turnovers.
3. Low-Post Defense
Losing Archie and Holmes has put us at a huge disadvantage against any team with strong post players. Sam Muldrow is a very good center, but Austin Steed and Jhondre Jefferson are, for varying reasons, not capable of playing at Archie and Holmes's levels. Horn more or less ceded his hand in this area when he chose to start a three guard lineup against Longwood, so to some degree I think we've basically decided to give up on post defense in exchange for a lineup that gives us advantages in the press and in outside shooting. Still, though, at some points Steed and Jefferson are going to have to step up and improve their play if we're going to survive against the many SEC teams that have strong post-players.
4. Evaldas Baniulus / Jhondre Jefferson
These are the two players that can swing this season either way. Baniulus is a shooting specialist and can help us with number one above, but he has struggled so far this year. If he can find his touch, though, he could help us open up our offense, as he did against Longwood. Jefferson, likewise, is the most likely candidate to help us with number three. I like what Steed brings to the table and think he is a very serviceable spot player, but after watching him for the past year, I'm not sure if we're going to see much different from him this year. Jefferson is more of an unknown quantity, and I have hopes that he can make a big difference. He's shown flashes of ability, particularly on defense and on the boards, that could blossom into much more as the season progresses.
5. Clutch Play in Close Games
Unless we see some magic and / or catch the 'Cats on an off-night, I doubt this year's team is going to seriously challenge Kentucky. However, every other SEC game is imminently winnable. Unfortunately, every game is also imminently losable, including UGA (thin but much improved this year under a new coach), Auburn (on the road), and Arkansas (just got a key player back). The truth of the matter is that after Kentucky, there's not a lot of separation, so a lot of these are going to be very close games. Sometimes the team that wins is just the one that makes a couple of key plays late. We need to be that team, just as we often were last year.
So, what did I miss? What other issues face this team as we move forward?