The 2016-2017 season of South Carolina men’s basketball will be remembered as a season of firsts. Fans witnessed the first tournament win in over forty years, the first appearance in the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, and Final Four. In that historic two-week run led by senior phenom Sindarius Thornwell, the Gamecock basketball team received an unprecedented amount of media exposure, which will do nothing but bolster the reputation and respect for Coach Frank Martin and the program he has rebuilt. And yes, I know, basketball season just ended, but it’s never too early for a preview of what is to come. After all, South Carolina is a basketball school. Right guys?
Anyways, losing Sindarius Thornwell to graduation will hurt, that’s for certain. No matter how much P.J. Dozier improves (if he comes back) during the off-season, there will simply be no way to replace the all-around impact Thornwell had on the team with one dominant player. The Gamecocks will have to play better team ball offensively, not relying too heavily on one player to carry the offense like they did with Thornwell. If this is accomplished, an appearance in the Sweet Sixteen is not outlandish by any means.
Coach Martin returns three starters this upcoming season: P.J. Dozier, Chris Silva, and Maik Kotsar. Delaware transfer Kory Holden will likely see himself inserted into the lineup, as well as rising sophomore Rakym Felder.
Projected Starting Five
G - Rakym Felder: After seeing heavier minutes in the latter half of the season, Felder provided a scoring spark off the bench, leading the Gamecocks in three-point percentage. With an increased workload due to the graduation of three senior guards, Felder should look to build off an overall good freshman campaign.
G - Kory Holden: see below.
G - P.J. Dozier: As long as he doesn’t declare for the NBA draft (I simply don’t see this happening, expect an article later in the week on why), Dozier has the talent and situation to be a first-team All-SEC player. With his length and newfound domination in driving to the rim, Dozier must step into a leadership role to guide the team to where they want to be. Realistically, look for Dozier to score in the 20+ ppg region, as well as a very noticeable consistency to his shooting, whether it be from three or at the free throw line.
F - Chris Silva: Chris Silva has the potential to be the Gamecocks’ best player in 2017-2018. The athletic shot-blocker with an improving offensive game just has to avoid foul trouble. Every fan knows what Silva can do when not sitting on the bench; it’s just a matter of whether or not he can show the self control to avoid unreasonable fouls. If he can master this, there’s no question that he can post averages around the lines of 15 ppg and 10 rpg. His ceiling is high, making Chris Silva the X-factor for the Gamecocks next season.
F - Maik Kotsar: Another off-season of working with Coach Martin will greatly aid the development of the 6’10” big man from Estonia. After a solid freshman season, Kotsar needs to be more assertive, more confident in his game. His defense could use some improvement, but in games like Syracuse and Florida in the Elite Eight, he showed some serious flashes. If he continues to develop, Kotsar will be an incredibly valuable player next year, potentially even making USC a post-oriented team.
Newcomer of the Year
Kory Holden. Fans are familiar with the work of the known quantities, the returners, but may not know exactly what Holden brings to the table. Let me fill you in. When I look at Kory Holden’s tape, I see Kemba Walker. Standing at 6’2” with the quickness to shake past his defenders and the skill to shoot almost 40% from beyond the arc, Holden has the ability to take over games. Although the level of competition between the CAA and the SEC is drastically different, Holden did score an impressive 24 ppg against tournament teams during his time at Delaware. If he can perform the way that his tape suggests, Holden will do a fine job filling the offensive void left behind by Sindarius Thornwell.
Making the Leap
Sedee Keita, the gem of the Gamecock 2016 recruiting class, was supposed to come in and make an immediate impact. A hand injury derailed that, and Keita never seemed to really get back on track. 2017 could very well be his year. Another athletic big man like Silva, Keita has an immense amount of potential. A full off-season of working with the coaching staff should further bring about his development. There are a lot of what-ifs in this particular situation, but if anyone can unlock the potential of Keita, it’s Frank Martin. Look for a major improvement in the play of Sedee Keita this year.
Freshmen To Watch
Although David Beatty has the higher recruiting grades, Ibrahim Doumbia will be the most impressive freshman this season. Checking in at 6’8”, Doumbia is a true small forward. Another athletic forward from outside the United States, Doumbia not only has the leaping ability of Chris Silva, but the touch from outside to consistently make threes. When watching him play, I think of Justin Leon from Florida, who has a true inside-out game that terrorized South Carolina in the first half of the Elite Eight game in New York. Although it may take Doumbia a while to adjust to the speed of SEC basketball, he has the rare combination of size, athleticism, and skill to be a potentially great player.
I get it. Basketball season just ended, let’s get back to the football talk. But after a season the likes of which South Carolina has never seen, it’s important to take a quick peek at what to expect next year. There’s no doubt Coach Martin has rebuilt the program to heights most fans wouldn’t have envisioned. And with the increased media attention he received during their historic run in the NCAA tournament, recruiting will only go up (much like Dabo Swinney at Clemson). South Carolina basketball may have made the Final Four last year, but if you ask me, they are just getting started.