Has it really been a little over three years since Frank Martin took the helm of the South Carolina men's basketball team? Yep. The year 2012, in fact (March 27, 2012, to be precise), was when he was introduced. And, well, success hasn't really been as plentiful as it was at his previous stop.
This is not to bash Martin, still a very good coach. I'm simply saying that 45-54 (15-39 SEC) wasn't quite what Gamecocks fans signed up for from a man that led Kansas State to the NCAA Tournament four out of his five years there. Granted, Gamecocks basketball wasn't exactly Kentucky-esque to start with, but a little more improvement was expected given his credentials.
But last year held true to form: a quick start in non-conference play (9-3 with a win over Iowa State) before a disappointing league slate (8-13 the rest of the way). And that's the problem with Gamecocks basketball. They can tease you and pick up key wins like the one against Iowa State (and Kentucky in 2014). But against the league, which, outside of Kentucky and Florida doesn't boast a standout program, they falter.
That's a problem that could lead to a tough decision for Ray Tanner after next season unless Martin and his team take the next step. Consider that Martin will have just two years left on his six-year contract. It's conceivable that more wins and a much better showing in SEC play (we'll say .500 at worst, give or take a couple of games below that) will undoubtedly get him an extension, especially if he trends at or higher than that aforementioned .500 mark. However, another season at or near the conference cellar could prove detrimental.
And some would say the Gamecocks don't have much of an excuse to not be better than they were in previous years. Duane Notice and Sindarius Thornwell will be names to watch in 2015-16 as they will be the center point of the team's offense. P.J. Dozier, who might be one of the team's more important recruits in some time, should make an immediate impact once he steps on campus.
That's the thing. Martin is a great recruiter. Kids want to play for him thanks to what he can bring to the table as well as his prior success elsewhere. But, for one reason or another, it just hasn't translated into wins. With a player like Dozier in the mix, along with the returnees from last season, there's no reason to think that this team can't at least get to the middle of the league slate.
Again, Martin's a very good coach. He knows what it takes to build a successful, competitive program. That's why he was hired. But if the Gamecocks don't take the next step, his time in Columbia could very well come to an end.