No, you weren’t dreaming in March. The South Carolina Gamecocks actually did make it all the way to the Final Four. While they lost to Gonzaga in the semifinals, they gave everyone a ride to remember.
Fast forward six months later, and some new (and old) faces will be hitting the hardwood for the first practice of the new season. Here are five questions we have heading into the next few weeks leading to tipoff.
What can the 2017-18 Gamecocks do for an encore?
It’s going to be tough for this team to replicate its Final Four run, and when the preseason projections come out, that much will be reflected. It’s not that South Carolina’s a bad team; it’s just that they’ve lost a lot, and whether this group can get them to San Antonio when it’s all said and done is going to be a tough ask. This team’s surprised us before, though, so count a Frank Martin-coached team out at your own risk.
In short, is this a team that can win the SEC? Probably not. Can they get to the NCAA Tournament? Sure. They should be able to become a mainstay in March if only to prove that the sheer act of getting there last year wasn’t an aberration.
How will the team move on without Sindarius Thornwell, PJ Dozier and Duane Notice?
Even if Dozier hadn’t declared for the NBA Draft, the absence of Thornwell and Notice in and of itself would have equaled a huge hole in the Gamecocks lineup. Now, we’ll get to see how life goes on without the trio. Chris Silva and Maik Kotsar, who came on strong late in the season and in the NCAA Tournament, will be out to show that their end-of-the-season improvement wasn’t a flash in the pan and that they can perform as high level players in the front court. Hassani Gravett’s role will increase this season, especially with Rakym Felder (more on him in a moment) out for at least the entire non-conference schedule. High-scoring guard Kory Holden, eligible after transferring from Delaware before the 2016-17 season, is a name that you’ll see a lot of in the starting five and could be carrying a good bit of the scoring load.
Can the graduate transfers step into a leadership role immediately?
South Carolina added a pair of grad transfers during the offseason in FAU’s Frank Booker and Maine’s Wes Myers. Myers certainly has the greater scoring touch (16.9 ppg last year with Maine), but against tougher competition in the SEC, will that continue? While Booker doesn’t have the same scoring prowess, he does add a veteran presence and experience against larger programs (he spent two years with Oklahoma before transferring to FAU).
Can Rakym Felder shake off his off-the-court issues and develop into a star player for the Gamecocks?
Felder won’t attend classes in the fall after facing third-degree assault charges (later dropped). That’s a shame, because I felt that he was turning into a player that would become a go-to for South Carolina in the near future. The bigger story: Felder is currently on his second strike. No doubt any further run-ins will mean the end of his career in Columbia, so hopefully it’s a lesson learned once and for all.
What will we see from the freshmen?
South Carolina brings in a five-member class: guard David Beatty and forwards Jason Cudd, Ibrahim Doumbia, Felipe Haase and Justin Minaya. There’s minutes to be had and it’s always tough to get a read on how many the new guys will get, but I’d look for Beatty to give some of the guys a blow at guard when they need it (at least to start).