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South Carolina men's basketball 2015-16 player preview: Mindaugas Kacinas

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The 2015-16 South Carolina men's basketball season kicks-off next week so we're starting our player previews. First up: senior Mindaugas Kacinas.

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

#25 Mindaugas Kacinas

Senior

6-7 / 229 lbs.

Klaipeda, Lithuania

College Career

Kacinas enters this season as a part of head coach Frank Martin's first senior class in Columbia. Minde spent his first two years playing out of position because the team's size was underwhelming. Kacinas, a player who's more comfortable on the wing, has been forced to play inside for the majority of his college career.

Entering last season, Kacinas and fellow Lithuanian Laimonas Chatkevicius, sacrificed a summer back home to stay in the States and put work in on the hardwood and in the weight room. Minde added 18 pounds to his frame, raising his weight from 209 to 227. With increased depth last season, Kacinas was able to play more on the wing than years past but still spent quite a bit of time in the post.

While the weight gain helped, his junior season was quite similar to his sophomore year. A year ago, Kacinas opened with a solid season opener, contributing nine points and 11 rebounds in a win against North Florida. The Gamecocks performed well in an early season tournament in Charleston and Kacinas had a couple of his best games in Chucktown. He posted a 10-point, 11-rebound double-double against Cornell and tallied 11 points vs. UNC-Charlotte. He extended his solid play when the Gamecocks returned to Colonial Life Area and upset Oklahoma State. Kacinas grabbed a season-high 12 boards to go along with nine points in the win.

Kacinas scored 13 points to pair with nine boards and a pair of clutch free throws when the Gamecocks earned a big road win against Georgia late in the year. He even played a season high 33 minutes, contributing eight points and five rebounds, in USC's SEC Tournament win over Missouri.

For two seasons in a row now, Kacinas has started off the season strong and ended the year with similar encouraging performances. When the SEC schedule hits, and we're in the heart of college basketball season, Kacinas has tailed off and becomes inconsistent night-to-night. The only consistent thread of Kacinas' college career is that he has yet to show us what should be expected of him on a nightly basis. We know he'll play well to start and end the year, but more consistency when the schedule becomes a grind is what we haven't seen from the senior.

2015 Outlook

Kacinas pulled down modest averages of 6.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game last season. He won't ever be an offensive threat but that doesn't mean he has no impact on the offense. The team's offensive rating with Kacinas on the floor is far above average and a lot of that has to do with his offensive rebounding. In the 2014-15 season, Kacinas had the fifth highest offensive rebounding percentage in the SEC.

Kacinas is on the roster to defend and rebound, not to score buckets. While he's been a plus defender for much of his college career, he's usually been matched up with guys bigger than him. Because of USC's lack of depth, Minde has been undersized, height-wise and physically, for much of his time in Columbia. While last year's team provided more depth, there's even more on this season's squad. Kacinas will be able to spend more time out on the wing, crashing the boards and defending how Martin would like to. The strategy to South Carolina's defense is to funnel the opposition too fast to the rim so rest of the defense is there waiting to block shots or take charges. For much of his time with Martin, Kacinas was forced to play the rim-protector role, something he is not. With conceivably even more time on the wing, Kacinas will be finally be the funnel in his last season.

Time on the wing could even help Kacinas' offensive approach. In his first two seasons, Minde shot a combined 4-of-22 from behind the 3-point arc. Last season, he was 9-of-29. That 31 percent mark isn't fantastic but it shows remarkable improvement from a poor 3-PT shooter.

There are things though that only Kacinas and the other seniors will have as benefits. They're another year older, bigger, stronger and more mentally prepared than the rest of the team. They have move of an understanding of what the coaching staff wants and likely possess an unbelievable understanding of expectations and responsibility.

Kacinas and the other seniors have made the investment, but their most important role is taking care of the program that's coming after them.