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Game preview: Gamecock men open season against North Alabama

It’s time for shootyhoops!

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

South Carolina vs. North Alabama

Start time: 7 p.m.

TV: SEC Network+

Live stream: watchespn.com

Then and now

South Carolina enters the 2019-20 campaign with some unknowns, but also with some excitement. The Gamecocks will be without former star forward Chris Silva — now in the NBA with the Miami Heat — and fellow starter Hassani Gravett, but only suffered the loss of forward Felipe Haase to the transfer market in the offseason. Without that yearly trend of roster turmoil, this is coach Frank Martin’s most stable and complete team in years and is led by sophomore guard A.J. Lawson, a projected NBA Draft pick. The Gamecocks, while not a lock for an NCAA Tournament appearance, have been viewed as a last four in/bubble team candidate by some bracket analysts, a goal that seems within reach.

One important tidbit, however: Forward Keyshawn Bryant, one of South Carolina’s most dynamic and exciting young players last year, will likely miss the first month of the season with a knee injury. On the bright side, forward Justin Minaya is healthy again and ready to roll after being sidelined for much of last season, so hopefully the loss of Bryant won’t be too much of a sore spot in the early goings. (Worth noting also that T.J. Moss, who was injured for much of last year, and Jermaine Couisnard, who sat out with NCAA eligibility issues, are both available now as well.)

What to watch for

The North Alabama Lions hail from the Atlantic Sun conference, where they are in just their second season playing Division I ball after moving up from DII. As you might expect, the Lions struggled last year, compiling a 10-22 overall record while going winless in 12 tries against out-of-conference competition. North Alabama was picked to finish sixth in the A-Sun, with returning guard Jamari Blackmon landing a preseason first-team selection — Blackmon led both the Lions and the league in scoring with 14.6 points per game last season. And if you’re wondering why the Gamecocks are playing UNA, of all teams, coach Tony Pujol hails from the same Miami neighborhood as Frank Martin.