It's a quick turnaround, but just hours after the Gamecocks play Florida, we will be in basketball mode. Game one of year four of Frank Martin's tenure is tonight against Norfolk State. So what should we expect this year - another disappointment or a long-awaited breakthrough? A few of us, namely site managers Kaci Barfield and Sydney Hunte, GABACast co-host DC3_Tweets aka Richard Cox, and hoops writer Davis Williams got together to talk about that just ahead of tipoff at the CLA.
1) What player are you looking forward to watching the most this season?
Davis Williams: It has to be P.J. Dozier. Sindarius Thornwell was a nice get for Frank Martin on the recruiting trail but Dozier is the best recruit the Gamecocks will have put on the floor in sometime. He's already made quite the impression in preseason practice and he has the ability to start from day one.
Sydney Hunte: I'll mention more on him in a little bit, but I'll have to go with P.J. Dozier. The amount of hype that's attached to him, the expectations, the hopes - I'm ready to see how he handles it. Of course, as has been mentioned weeks prior, I think calling him the program's "savior" is a bit overblown. But much of the team's success this year will depend on how he does during the course of the season.
Richard Cox: Despite being an unabashed fan of both Sindarius Thornwell and the Lithuanian contingent, I have to say that I'm particularly interested in the performance of Michael Carrera this year. He's shown such promise, and is built to be a great college basketball Forward, but, he's been plagued by injury and inconsistency. Hopefully his final year is the one that we've all been waiting for out of the big Venezuelan.
Kaci Barfield: Michael Carrera. I've always thought it's just a lot of fun to watch him play. Since he's a senior the end of his time with us is in sight and I'm looking forward to one more season of seeing him in garnet and black.
2) What will be more important to this team's success: Sindarius Thornwell's health, Duane Notice's improved scoring, P.J. Dozier's emergence at point guard, or consistent, solid post play?
Davis Williams: All are important to South Carolina's success this season. Usually when the USC big men have a good game, it leads to a win. A competent leader at the point would be nice as well but I'll go with Thornwell's health. He wasn't himself for much of last season and I think the Gamecocks would have come up with a couple more wins if he had been 100 percent.
Sydney Hunte: I think it will be important to see how Duane Notice emerges as a point guard. You've got to have a guy that can control the tempo of play and run the point, so for that reason I'll be interested to see how Dozier's role grows and develops this year. It's important to remember that he's only a freshman and he'll make mistakes as he goes, so we'll need to be patient with him.
Richard Cox: PJ Dozier is someone we all want to root for, and will get ample opportunity to do so. Thornwell seems like he's as focused as he's ever been. The x-factor in the Gamecocks' season is absolutely Notice's ability to improve on last season's performance as a point scorer.
Kaci Barfield: Is all of the above an option? I think that the Gamecocks are going to be better this season and I also think that the margin for error is pretty thin. Missing any of these things will hurt, but if I have to pick the most important thing to have, I'll say Thornwell's health.
3) Which game are you looking forward to the most this season?
Davis Williams: The top-four teams are in a tier of their own but outside of that, I think the league is very wide open. Georgia and Florida were picked to finish fifth and sixth in the preseason media poll. The Bulldogs are the biggest challengers to USC in that second group of teams so the two matchups against UGA could be critical to how this season plays out.
Sydney Hunte: There are a couple, but the one I'm looking forward to the most is 2/13 against Kentucky. It gives us a chance to see how this team is able to stack up to one of the best teams in college basketball history. John Calipari always has that team playing at another level, and while it's a stretch to say that the Gamecocks will be there at some point, I'm interested to see if they'll be able to at least give the Wildcats more of a challenge than they've given them recently. Outside of that, St. John's on 12/22 in Connecticut as part of the Basketball Hall of Fame Shootout will be a big non-conference test for this squad, along with Memphis on January 2.
Richard Cox: Clemson. December 18th. Greenville, SC. BEAT THEM BY 30.
Kaci Barfield: I don't know that there's any one game that particularly jumps out at me, so I'm giving kind of a lazy answer and saying the entire SEC slate of games. Last year was just so frustrating with the excitement of finishing our non-conference portion of the schedule strong and then the disappointment of falling on our face in the SEC. And so many of those SEC losses were really close. So I'm really looking forward to seeing us (hopefully) flip that this season and beat a lot of conference opponents.
4) If the Gamecocks fall short of expectations, ending the year with say a .500 record and in the bottom half of the SEC - what should the fans and Ray Tanner think of Frank Martin and this program?
Davis Williams: It would be severely disappointing but Martin should not be fired after the season unless it's a complete blowout. The program is trending upwards and a season like that would kill momentum but Martin would get at least one more season to prove he's the right man for the job.
Sydney Hunte: With the recruiting job he's done over the past few years, I think that we need to start seeing some wins materialize. Martin needs to get this team to make headway in the top of the conference against teams like Florida and Kentucky. .500 in league play would be a good start (more on that later), but another subpar in-conference performance may force Tanner into a tough situation.
Richard Cox: If we're in that position, I fear that we would be undergoing the next major coaching search of coach Tanner's tenure. Of course, I think that search would be warranted.
Kaci Barfield: This is a tough question. I think we're far enough into Frank Martin's tenure to expect more concrete results than "but the team was fun to watch and kept most games close!" So I think that there will be some unease/restlessness, among fans especially, if the Gamecocks don't meet expectations. And I think it will be fair to ask what's going wrong and why there isn't more progress. That said, I don't think it will be a reason to completely panic and do something drastic like fire Martin.
5) Where will South Carolina finish in the SEC? What will their regular season record be? What will they be doing this postseason?
Davis Williams: I think the Gamecocks have a wildly successful period during their nonconference slate then come down to earth once SEC play begins. They'll finish with a 20-11 record, putting them sixth in the final SEC standings. They'll be part of a group of SEC teams that will need a successful run in the SEC Tournament to go dancing. They'll fall short of a tournament bid but will make a trip to the NIT.
Sydney Hunte: I think a mid-table conference finish isn't out of the question. I feel that the pieces are in place to make a good run, and they might do better than that and make the NCAA tournament (many people feel that they're an NCAA team on paper). Maybe they can string together some big wins and get themselves into the NIT - which would be a good first step.
Richard Cox: We finish third in the East; we barely make the NIT
Kaci Barfield: I think the Gamecocks will finish in the top half of the conference, but I think it'll be on the lower end of that group, so probably 6th or 7th. I'm really awful at predicting regular season records, but I'll go with something like 18-12. That's a good non-conference showing and then somewhere in the neighborhood of .500 in conference play. I think there will be a big improvement over the last few years and maybe it'll be enough to have them dancing in the postseason, which I think is something we have an outside shot at seeing.