The South Carolina Gamecocks have struggled to return to the level of success they saw when the team reached the Final Four in 2017. Frank Martin's team has won an average of 17 games since that 26-win season. While that isn’t abysmal by any stretch, the Gamecocks should be expecting a bit more of an end product this season, given the amount of talent returning to Columbia. If the Gamecocks can cash in on the amount of continuity that they bring back from last year’s team, the sky is the limit as the Gamecocks look to make another run in March.
Who’s Back, Who’s Gone?
One of the biggest advantages that the Gamecocks have heading into the upcoming season is the amount they return to their roster. Stalwart F Maik Kotsar (graduation) and George Washington transfer G Jair Bolden (transferring to Butler) were two key contributors that are departing, but the Gamecocks return the other 11 scholarship players from last year’s 18-win season.
G/F AJ Lawson returns for his junior season after leading the Gamecocks in scoring at 13.4 PPG with redshirt sophomore G Jermaine Cousinard joining him as the second-leading scorer at just over 12 PPG last season out of the backcourt. In the frontcourt, the Gamecocks return starting-caliber players in junior Keyshawn Bryant (9.1 PPG) and redshirt junior Justin Minaya, who has had an injury-riddled career after having a breakout freshman season in 2017-18.
Outside of those projected starters, the Gamecocks return a number of key contributors from last season, and in particular bench players that will make the Gamecocks one of the deepest teams in the league. Sophomores Trae Hannibal and TJ Moss are the backcourt reserves that are returning after playing in 26 and 30 games, respectively, and both should have increased roles with the departure of Bolden. The frontcourt has more returning options, with junior Alanzo Frink and sophomores Jalyn McCreary, Wildens Leveque, and Trey Anderson returning, all with the potential to see more playing time depending on matchups.
With the amount of players returning, there is not much room for new players in Columbia. However, there are three new players that will be suiting up for the Gamecocks this season, starting with North Carolina transfer G Seventh Woods, who you might remember as the recruit that had a mixtape on YouTube as a fourteen-year-old that garnered over 15 million views but didn’t have much of an impact in three seasons at UNC before transferring to South Carolina and sitting out last season. The Gamecocks also bring in two prep commitments in three-star forwards, Ja’Von Benson and Patrick Iriel, who are both local products from Columbia and look to provide depth while they develop for the future.
G: Jermaine Cousinard
G: AJ Lawson
G: Justin Minaya
F: Keyshawn Bryant
F: Wildens Leveque
Bench: Seventh Woods
Bench: Alanzo Frink
Bench: T.J. Moss
Bench: Trae Hannibal
Bench: Jalyn McCreary
Bench: Trey Anderson
Bench: Ja’Von Benson
Bench: Patrick Iriel
The Gamecocks have many options for their starting lineup, but the most likely configuration includes Leveque, who showed flashes last season playing behind Kotsar, manning the middle, with Bryant and Minaya manning the other front-court spots and Lawson and Cousinard as shoe-ins for the guard spots. The question marks come from the bench, where there are plenty of numbers but no proven entities outside of Frink that have played significant minutes. Finding bench production, specifically in the backcourt from Woods, Moss, and Hannibal will be crucial to the Gamecocks’ success this upcoming season, even if Cousinard and Lawson are expected to carry most of the burden from those positions.
Looking to the Future
The Gamecocks have three commitments in their 2021 recruiting class, which puts them over the scholarship limit by two spots. All three commits are from three-star players, those being G Devin Carter (Miami, FL), G Jacobi Wright (Greenville, SC) and F Carlous Williams (Gulfport, MS). The Gamecocks don’t have any more prospects that they are projected to get on 247Sports, but it’s always possible that they pursue transfers or junior college players to fill out the rest of their class, but adding more players just adds to the number of outgoing players that will be required to balance the roster. Look for some outgoing transfers from players that graduate and can grad transfer, as well as some draft declarations from player like Lawson and Bryant (who could have been drafted this cycle had they declared).
South Carolina brings back most of the talent that earned them eighteen wins last season, including ten in conference play. They lose Maik Kotsar from their frontcourt, which will open up more opportunities for players like Leveque and Frink, but the backcourt they return is one of the best in the league. The key to their success is how consistently they can perform, especially in non-conference play which has seen them struggle at times. Their early season MTE in Kansas City which will see them play Northwestern and TCU/Tulsa will give an early insight into how Martin is going to manage his rotation, but when this team gets into conference play, they will be a tough out every night with the amount of top-end players they have that can have breakout performances and single-handedly win them games.
For more Alabama hoops coverage, be sure to follow Crimson Crossover on all social media platforms: