South Carolina basketball season in review: Evaluating our preseason predictions

Duane Notice played a huge role in the Gamecocks' 2013-14 season. - Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

We made a significant number of predictions over the course of the season. How'd those turn out for us?

My mother always told me it was OK to make mistakes, so long as I learned something.  While I didn't always follow that advice as a child (or as an adult, for that matter), it's a valuable lesson all the same.

With that in mind, we thought it'd be interesting to look back on the predictions we made before the season started, to see how they shook out.  We made the bulk of our predictions in our previews of the back court, and the season.  So if you'd like to read those before charging ahead, feel free.  Otherwise, let's see how we did.

Our prediction that the three most important players would be Michael Carrera, Brenton Wiliams, and our point guard

At the beginning of the season, it seemed obvious we needed Carrera to continue to develop in order to help us create a post presence.  He spent his freshman year as our most effective and efficient player in the post, so the ability to continue to receive a presence in the post from him while we tried to develop our freshmen (Demetrius Henry and Desmond Ringer) and our other sophomores (Laimonas Chatkevicius and Mindaugas Kacinas) seemed critical.  We thought he'd make a huge leap into the hearts of SEC fans - instead, he regressed.

In the end, the failure of Carrera and the coaching staff to develop him into a post presence hampered the Gamecocks all season, but particularly in the early going, when he only contributed 14 minutes against Manhattan (picking up four fouls) and didn't play against USC Upstate due to a suspension from a post-game altercation.  Those two non-conference losses gave the first three months of the season a sour taste for many, until the win over Kentucky and SEC tournament run left the fans feeling good about the direction of the program.

On a happier note, it's not news to anyone that Williams' emergence as someone Frank Martin was willing to put on the floor contributed to the team's success this season, as his 14.9 points per game led the team, as did his 30.3 minutes per game.  Brenton kept the team in some games they didn't belong in (particularly road losses to Missouri and Arkansas) and led it to some big wins late in the year (27 points against Kentucky; 24 points against Mississippi State).

Lastly, the unavailability of Tyrone Johnson and Bruce Ellington for long stretches represented one of the most important issues that face the Gamecocks this year, though neither followed the script we anticipated - Johnson didn't sit out for a semester due to transfer rules but missed half a season with a broken foot, and while Bruce did miss games for football, we certainly didn't expect him to miss as many as he did.  With Duane Notice pressed into major minutes at the point, the team struggled to find its way in the middle stretch of SEC play.  It's a credit to the group that they were able to reel off some of the wins they did despite the loss of their two upperclassmen floor generals.

Sindarius Thornwell will be good

Not that this was a hard one to get right.  In fact, we underrated him a bit:

A hyped top 50 recruit (the first in Columbia since Ro Howell), he's going to start opening night and should be an impact freshman. Not impact in the sense that I'd expect him to score 15 points a game this season, but he'll get a bunch of minutes, play good defense, and overall just be a good basketball player for our team, while contributing points as well.

Thornwell scored 13.3 points a game, which is far closer to 15 than I expected.  If the Gamecocks want to take a big step between this season and next, he needs to avoid the sophomore slump that plagued Carrera this year.  Given he won't deal with the position-change issues that Carrera faced this season, I have no reason to think he'll be anything other than an outstanding sophomore wing player for the Gamecocks next winter.

The other impact freshman will be Duane Notice and Demetrius Henry

After of course gushing about Thornwell, we listed two other freshmen as players to watch for in 2013-14:

If [Notice] can handle himself [at the point without Johnson and Ellington], he's got the chance to get 30 minutes a night in the early going and keep us in those games. If he can't, then Thornwell moves up to the point (where he won't be as comfortable or productive) and the entire team takes a hit. His exhibition performance gave hope, but that's not the same as getting it done in these hostile venues.

With Henry, his importance was stressed above in that it lets Carrera play the 3, but he's also got the chance to give us an interior presence both offensively and defensively that we didn't have last season. While Chatkevicius and Kacinas improved in the offseason, the Gamecocks (especially given their propensity for fouling) will need at least one more - and probably two more - bodies down low. Henry is a top 100 recruit with the size and skillset to step in and start immediately and make an impact down low. Again, his ability to do so can really change just how good this team can be this season.

We knew Notice's ability to play point without Bruce and Ty was important; we just didn't understand why yet.  And although he struggled with some aspects of that throughout the season, his ability to keep Thornwell out of the position for most of the year allowed Sin to thrive over on the wing.  While Notice likely moves to the 2 next season, the fact he has the experience running the point means we'll have some cover if Ty gets injured or incoming freshman Marcus Stroman fails to deliver immediately.

Meanwhile, Demetrius Henry played significant minutes, but could never really piece together a great string of performances.  That's OK - he's a freshman playing the post in the SEC, a place where most freshmen get eaten alive, so it's not to fault him or his potential when we say it wasn't his best year.  We knew if he could come in and play over his head it would change the complexion of the season, and while he came in and did his best, it wasn't good enough to fundamentally alter the Gamecocks.

Aside from these three, none of the other four freshmen averaged over 8 minutes a game.

We won't play post-season basketball

The schedule was too tough, and was foreseeably too tough.  This team could've had a winning record had it scheduled it's non-conference as Darrin Horn used to do.  That wouldn't have served the program or the team.

Aside from Longwood, SC State, and probably Marshall, we don't have any lay-ups in non-conference action. Manhattan and USC Upstate both bring back teams that were good last season and that lost almost no major contributors from last year.

[...]

Ultimately, we probably aren't going to win any of those three road games [Baylor, Clemson, Oklahoma State], will likely go 1-2 in Hawai'i, and are likely to drop at least one of our other non-conference games against FIU, Akron, and USC Upstate. So that puts us generously at 7-6 coming out of non-conference play, which would require a 9-9 SEC record to make the NIT. That's an uphill fight, y'all.

We dropped an extra non-conference home game to USC Upstate and got it back with an extra win in Hawaii over St. Mary's.  Otherwise, the non-conference schedule played to form just about as expected.  It was frustrating, don't get me wrong, but the schedule this team played meant it would need some luck to get to post-season play.  And it got the opposite of luck, as it rated 298th (of 351) in the nation in that category.

The 7-14 record in the SEC (when you account for SEC tournament play) required a very easy non-conference slate if we wanted a winning record.  We didn't play one, and so we were left at home for a fifth-consecutive year.

Frank Martin will succeed in Columbia

The great thing about this season as opposed to last is that there are going to be a lot of guys on the court who should - if things go as intended - be on our next NCAA tournament team, and be major contributors. Last year, the only guy I felt assured would contribute on our next tournament team was Carrera, and possibly Chatkevicius. This season, I feel much better about the fact that Laimonas will be an important piece, as well as Carrera, Thornwell, and at least one other freshman (if I had to guess, Notice). Last season you knew it was nothing but dead money on the court - this year, the growing pains  should pay off down the road. That may not be a difference in wins and losses, but it sure feels better.

The verdict is very clearly still out on this one, though I think all signs point to solid growth between years 1 and 2, and there's every indication that next year's team will improve on the 2013-14 unit.  That could put the best Carolina basketball team on the court since 2009 (which was 71st in the Pomeroy ratings), with an outside chance at fielding the best team since the 2005-06 team beat the national champion Gators twice, won the NIT, and otherwise failed to win close games in the most frustrating ways possible.  That's probably the marker for growth next year - can we put our best team on the floor in nearly a decade?  And frankly, even if we can, we probably still won't make the NCAA Tournament.  Such was the status of this program when Martin joined.  It's a long way back to where we want to be, but it seems we're on the way there.

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