The Frank Martin Era is underway at Carolina, but it didn't get off to a great start last night in exhibition play against Kentucky Wesleyan. The Gamecocks had a back-and-forth contest against the D-II team, and we needed a Brenton Williams lay-in to win the game in the final seconds. This was an exhibition game, and Martin was toying with his lineup and approach, so it's probably not time to freak out just yet. It was hardly an impressive outing, though. A few quick thoughts:
--A lot of the talk out of practice has been that we're going to try to win ugly this season. Martin knows that this team lacks offensive talent and thinks the best way to win is to play physical defense and to focus on keeping the score low instead of selling out for transition baskets. If that was the plan tonight, it didn't work, as Carolina struggled defensively against KWU.
--One thing that was noticeable was Carolina's success in getting to the line. Martin favors an aggressive brand of offense that attacks the basket and draws fouls. While the Gamecocks struggled to score the ball from the field, they did a good job of getting to the line, and that was probably the difference.
--The big personnel issue is clearly going to be post play. Freshman Michael Carrera was a pleasant surprise with 12 points and seven boards. He showed a knack for drawing fouls down low and made the most of his FTA. However, he's undersized for an SEC forward and is going to struggle against the elite big men in the conference. R.J. Slawson and Laimonas Chatkevicius held down the center spot. If Carolina is to have any success this year, it needs Slawson to step up. If he's taken the next step, though, it didn't show last night.
--Guard/wing play was a mixed bag. Williams was the team's star, and Lakeem Jackson had a nice game, too. These two are probably going to be the team's focal points, along with Bruce Ellington and Damien Leonard when they return. But Eric Smith and especially Brian Richardson still have the same look of guys who aren't ready to contribute at an SEC level. Fingers crossed for both of them, but they didn't look any better than last year. The one good thing is that our guards are attacking the basket more. You can tell that Martin is going to institute a real offense for these guys to run, as opposed to what we saw with Horn last year.
To sum up, it probably goes without saying that things are going to be ugly this year as we transition out of the Horn era. The team was awful last year, and we lost one of our best players in Damontre Harris and another solid guy in Anthony Gill. This year's team has very little SEC-caliber talent. What we need to look for is steady improvement. I'll be satisfied with this season as long as we continue getting better as the freshmen settle in and the team learns Martin's system.