The Gamecocks’ season ended last Wednesday night in Nashville with a disappointing loss to Mississippi State, 70-59. State jumped out to an 11-point lead over the last 10 minutes of the first half and Carolina never really threatened from there on out. There’s not much to be said about the game because, frankly, everyone associated with it moved on almost immediately. The season is over. Now what comes next?
The question that lingered over the Gamecocks for nearly the entirety of the 2012-13 season had nothing to do with the results on the floor. While fans certainly hoped for better, a 14-18 (4-14) record was completely in line with expectations coming into the season. The Gamecocks, bereft of talent in many spaces and trying to adapt to an entirely new system, simply didn’t have the firepower to hang with the middle-tier of the SEC, let alone the upper crust.
The questions at this point immediately turn to three things – who is coming back, what will the new guys bring, and just who will the new guys be? We know from the staff’s additional recruiting that they anticipate some attrition coming up. We know that we’re bringing in a strong lead recruit in Thornwell, and there’s reason to think that Ringer and McKie can hopefully bring something (at the least, the “winner” intangible to the extent that might exist, as both won state championships last month). And given the additional recruiting, there may be more new faces joining Carolina alongside the returning players and the recuperating Carlton Geathers.
So what do we take from what we just witnessed? The players that matter most now are probably everyone but the juniors – they’ll likely (sadly) never play on a Carolina team that plays meaningful basketball. As much as I like Brenton Williams, I don’t think we’ll have the supporting cast to go anywhere next season, despite the fact I do think we’ll be an improved basketball team (as a major conference team, we can hardly be worse unless we start reaching Utah 2012 levels).
And I think Carlton Geathers – if he stays, which is a huge if with just about everyone in the program right now – can contribute on a Martin-coached team. Geathers couldn’t figure out how to use possessions at all his freshman year (he only shot 7.6% of the shots taken while he was on the court, and even then wasn’t very effective), but his rebounding percentages of 8% on OReb and 16.9% on DReb, along with Carolina’s lack of depth in the frontcourt, may mean he gets to stick around. That said, it will require substantial improvement from Carlton if he’s ever going to play meaningful minutes on a team playing meaningful basketball games.
The pieces of a winning program
We know that Michael Carrera is the type of player that can contribute to a winning program. He had an outstanding freshman season – playing over 50 percent of the minutes available to him, he ranked in the top 25 in both individual offensive and defensive rebounding. He shot relatively efficiently while taking a bunch of shots, and got to the free throw line a bunch. He has things to work on, but he can be an outstanding small forward or undersized power forward on an upper-echelon basketball team. And he’ll probably get that chance, if not next year.
And for now, given the age of the rest of the team, that might be the one piece we have in the fold. We’ll learn more about Thornwell, McKie, and Ringer in the coming months, and to the extent we add additional recruits to the 2013 class, they may also be those contributors. And of course, Tyrone Johnson will have a chance to show that he’s the guy who warranted a four-star rating coming out of high school, and not the guy who couldn’t make shots or stop turning the ball over in his freshman year at Villanova (though he did a great job of distributing the basketball). So if everyone there pans out, we have a potential starting five.
But the thing I’ve taken from this year is just how important the 2014 class is going to be. The Gamecocks are likely to struggle – though I would anticipate an uptick from where they are this year – next season as well, and that will two years under Martin without marked success. He’ll need to get momentum going toward improved things quickly, as his reputation from Kansas State will age in dog years if he and the staff can’t get us into the NCAAs by 2016 at the latest. The goal should be 2015, and given the roster issues we just discussed, that’s going to require an excellent 2014 class of 2-3 players that can contribute on a team that will make that run (of course, outstanding 2015 freshmen will similarly be able to help, but we’ll make or break our chances in the class of 2014).
So for now, we bid adieu to the 2013 season, a flawed team that did the best they could with what they had. Our eyes turn to recruiting (and retention). We’ll post haphazardly over the coming months, but this is a South Carolina basketball blog, and South Carolina basketball has ended for the year. Let’s hope this is the last time we have to type that in early March for a while.