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Sindarius Thornwell, PJ Dozier lead the Gamecocks to a hot start

Breaking down the early success of Frank Martin’s 2016 Gamecock squad.

NCAA Basketball: Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational-South Carolina vs Syracuse
This team is legit.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

So football is over huh? (Well, at least until bowl season). We all know what Clemson did to our South Carolina Gamecocks this past Saturday. I’m here to talk about something that is way more positive than our football team right now, and that’s our men’s basketball team. The Gamecocks handled the Michigan Wolverines and Syracuse Orange, both fairly easily (recaps here and here), and got two big time resume building wins that will pay dividends come Selection Sunday.

So how exactly did we go from barely squeaking by Louisiana Tech to blowing out two top 25 teams in one week? I think there are a few things that have happened for the Gamecocks that will make them a force to be dealt with throughout the season.

Elite Guard Play

Yes, our trio of starting guards, Sindarius Thornwell, Duane Notice, P.J. Dozier, is one of the most dynamic groups in the SEC, if not the country. I mentioned this on the GABACast last night; the teams with the best guard play make the deepest runs in the NCAA tournament. Yes, it’s important to have excellent post play. But if you don’t have the guards to run an offense, create off the bounce and stretch the defense with outside shooting, then it is easy for teams to crash down on the low post and take your interior offense away. But those three guys are putting forth a slashline of 40.7/12.8/9.2 (PPG/RPG/APG). When your guards are scoring at will, and then also making the players around him better, you’re going to be a pretty good basketball team.

The Emergence of Maik Kotsar

One of my biggest concerns for this team was the lack of proven depth in the post. Unfortunately, the first four games did nothing to alleviate those fears. Chris Silva, while explosive and athletic as always, has yet to prove that he can play under control and often finds himself in early foul trouble. Maik Kotsar, at least in the Michigan and Syracuse games, has stepped up in a huge way to fill the void. We all knew he has a good outside touch, but Kotsar has shown an ability to finish around the rim and also get the tough rebounds required of Frank Martin’s bigs. His continued development will be key for the Gamecocks as the season progresses.

They’re playing Frank Martin Basketball

Frank Martin coached teams are known for three things: tough man-to-man defense, rebounding and intensity. That man-to-man defense held Michigan and Syracuse to a 19.2% and 31.8% clip from the field, respectively. While Syracuse shot a little bit better from the field overall, the Gamecocks held 30-8 advantage in scoring in the paint. When you own the paint against a team like Syracuse, which packs the lane with a 2-3 zone, then you’re going to have a lot of success.

The Gamecocks recently found themselves ranked in the latest AP rankings. I think this team has found a formula for success, but we’ll see if they can build on that success as a nationally recognized team.