#92 South Carolina Men's Basketball Preview

South Carolina Gamecocks

Overall Rank: #92
Conference Rank: #8 SEC
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2010-11: 14-16, 5-11
2010-11 postseason: none
Coach: Darrin Horn (50-42 at South Carolina, 161-90 overall)

Coach Darrin Horn is certainly hearing it from the fans after back-to-back losing seasons. After a 20 win season to start out his career at South Carolina, Coach Horn has failed to live up to expectations. Granted, those expectations are generally unreasonable and most things are not his fault. The latest issue is Bruce Ellington’s urge to play football. The point guard led the Gamecocks with 12.8 points and 3.2 assists last year and now will likely be on the turf until January, assuming the football team makes a bowl game. And even then it remains unclear if Ellington’s heart will be in basketball…or his body will be prepared for it.

Who’s Out:
The losses are just piling up at South Carolina. Life without Ellington will be tough enough, but losing Ramon Galloway and Stephen Spinella gives the Gamecocks very little experience in the backcourt. Galloway was a great sixth man and could have been the team’s go-to-scorer if he opted to stick around. The graduation of Sam Muldrow makes the frontcourt have some major problems as well. Muldrow developed over the years into a fine all-around big man. During his senior season he averaged 11.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per contest. He even developed a pretty good mid-range jumper by his senior season.

Who’s In:
Coach Horn keeps bringing in talented players…they just need to stick around a little longer for some consistency to develop. The prize recruit this year is Damien Leonard. The 6-5 shooting guard has great size and shooting range and should be able to shoot over most opposing defenders. He needs to get stronger and work on his ball handling skills, but Leonard should be a great scorer from day one. Brenton Williams, a sophomore transfer from Santa Fe Community College, could step into a starting role as well. At the least, he will be asked to play a lot of minutes backing up the point guard and shooting guard spots. This recruiting class also needs to address the absence of Muldrow. Anthony Gill is getting tougher and stronger by the day and is already turning from a lanky athlete into a big man who can battle in the paint. He is a strong rebounder and a pretty good scorer for an incoming freshman. Carlton Geathers has more size, but the redshirt freshman is still a project. He is the talent, but it remains to be seen if his year in the weight room will have him ready to compete for major playing time in 2011-2012.

Who to Watch:
Senior Malik Cooke is turning into the leader of this team. The 6-6 forward is a little undersized to play the four spot, but he has the toughness and rebounding ability to spend most of his time there without too much of a problem. His leadership and rebounding will be more important than his scoring, but Cooke has developed into a decent interior scorer who can occasionally stretch out the defense. Damontre Harris has the size to man the five spot and did a decent job during his freshman campaign. He is a good athlete, but still needs to get stronger to battle in the paint against SEC competition. The same can be said for fellow sophomore R.J. Slawson. He will battle with the newcomers for playing time off of the bench. The other forward for the Gamecocks is Lakeem Jackson. Jackson is a true small forward.  He can do a little bit of everything and averaged 7.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists during his sophomore season. With the development of a jump shot, Jackson could be in for a big season.

Final Projection:
Eric Smith is expected to take over the point guard duties after seeing limited action as a freshman. He is a tough point guard who will attack the basket with a lot of force. He is not a great shooter or scorer, but as long as he can take care of the ball and create opportunities for his teammates, Smith will be doing his job. Brian Richardson will likely lose his starting job with the addition of Leonard, but Smith is better off being a shooter off the bench anyway. On a team full of average shooters, Smith was the most consistent last season and he can get better. With a young squad, this team will need time. However, the same was true last year and instead of getting better as the year progressed, South Carolina’s youngsters just got tired. Coach Horn did his best to keep players minutes under control, but it did not make a difference. If this team can finish strong, they can make a postseason tournament for the first time in three years.

Projected Postseason Tournament: CBI/CIT

Projected Starting Five:
Eric Smith, Sophomore, Guard, 2.4 points per game
Damien Leonard, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
Lakeem Jackson, Junior, Forward, 7.8 points per game
Malik Cooke, Senior, Forward, 9.4 points per game
Damontre Harris, Sophomore, Forward, 3.7 points per game

Madness 2011 Men's Basketball Recruit Rankings:
#98 Damien Leonard
#138 Anthony Gill

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