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South Carolina Basketball: Who Is Our Starting Five?

In his most recent interview, Gamecocks coach Darrin Horn claimed that he's not sure who the starting lineup will be this season and that he may start seven or more players over the course of the year, depending on the situation. What does Coach Horn have in mind?

I agree with RP_45's statement in a recent comments thread that our standard starting lineup at the beginning of the season is likely to be Eric Smith, Damien Leonard, Lakeem Jackson, Malik Cooke, and Damontre Harris. Smith is the team's best true point and its only proven point until Bruce Ellington returns; Leonard is reported to be ready to take the SEC by storm from the 2G position; Jackson, although inconsistent on offense, is one of the league's best defenders from the 3F; Cooke is a do-it-all forward; and Harris, once he's recovered from his injury, is a stunning athlete who, if he's improved his fundamentals over the off-season, has the potential to be a come-out-of-nowhere star this year at 5C. These would seem to be our best players at their respective positions.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind regarding this lineup that suggest that it may give way to situational alterations over the course of the year. First of all, it's small. Although both Jackson and Cooke are capable of playing on the block, neither is big enough to effectively defend and fight for boards with the league's premier post players. The guy we're probably going to want on the floor to stand next to Harris when we're playing teams with multiple such players (Kentucky and Vanderbilt come to mind) is probably Anthony Gill. At 6'8, Gill is closer in height to a true power forward, and unlike R.J. Slawson, he has brawn to match his height. The highly recruited Gill has gained rave reviews from Coach Horn so far, and it wouldn't surprise me if we see him work his way into the starting lineup over the course of the season, perhaps permanently. In that case, Jackson and / or Cooke would take sixth-man roles. Both are versatile enough to play multiple positions, and both are guys who are too good not to be on the floor for large portions of the game.

Another guy to keep on eye on is Brian Richardson. Richardson started 2010-11 with a hot shooting hand and looked to be on his way to becoming a stalwart shooting guard for the Gamecocks. Unfortunately, he became streaky as the season wore on, and more often than not he went cold. However, Coach Horn has stated that he's shooting well right now, and that he's gotten stronger and ready to play better defense, too. If that's true, he's going to see his minutes go up and may challenge for a starting role. It might seem unlikely that he'll push Leonard, but Leonard can play 1-3 and could move over the make room for Richardson, if Richardson's play warrants it. On his good days, Richardson looks like an elite scorer, and if those start happening more often than not, he could really help a team that, once again, is likely going to have to rely on outside shooting quite a bit.

Lastly, Bruce Ellington is going to be the wildcard for this team when he returns. It's unclear whether Ellington will be prepared to play the same kind of role he did last year, and even if he is, I'm not sure Horn plays him as much. Last year, in the absence of talented perimeter threats, Ellington had to be a star for the Gamecocks. This year, with the addition of Leonard and Smith reportedly much improved, that may not be the case. With more legitimate perimeter threats, the Gamecocks may opt to go with the true 1G in Smith for his ability to distribute, and that may leave Ellington playing more of a supporting role. That said, it remains the case that Ellington was the team's leading scorer last year, and you can't count him out for that reason.