Questioning the Opposition - South Carolina Gamecocks

USA TODAY Sports

An inside look at the basketball team's next opponent.

The good folks over at Garnet And Black Attack sent over a few questions for me to answer about our Bears and they returned the favor. Go give Kyle ( @chickenhoops ) a follow on twitter for answering these questions and be sure to check out @GABAttack on twitter as well.

What is your team's greatest strength and greatest weakness?

The Gamecocks are a Frank Martin-coached team, so as you likely remember from his time at Kansas State, they're going to pound the hell out of the offensive glass. Michael Carrera was 9th in the nation last season in individual offensive rebounding, pulling down 16% of those he had a chance to grab. He plays small forward for us this season. That's who we are and who he want to be.

Last year, our biggest weakness was interior defense. Two guys from that team - Laimonas Chatkevicius and Mindaugas Kacinas - return, and it's hard to know how much (if at all) they've improved on that front given that we've only played an exhibition against USC-Aiken and a not terribly large (or good) Longwood team. But given Baylor's potential for interior production, it could be an area we're exploited mercilessly.

The other weakness I'd note is that the Gamecocks have seven freshmen on the roster and an eight player who transferred from Villanova and so is playing his first minutes in a Carolina uniform this season. This is the first road trip for multiple guys who we rely on for major minutes. It'll be interesting to see how they handle it.

What impact does Tyrone Johnson's early eligibility have for this year?

It's massive. Carolina was prepared to go into this season with freshman Duane Notice as our starting point guard, backed up by another freshman, Jaylen Shaw. Neither of these guys were top 250 recruits, and so with Johnson ineligible and Bruce Ellington busy with the football team, Martin backloaded the non-conference schedule as much as possible, which is why we're only playing five games before December 16th (when we thought Johnson would return).

Instead, we find out the morning of our season opener that Tyrone's immediately eligible, and all he does is go out and lead the team in scoring with 18 points. Given our depth at the position and his ability to meaningfully contribute, it's got the potential to easily add 1-2 wins to our season total.

What should Baylor fans be wary of that isn't necessarily obvious?

We're a bit of an unknown entity at this point, and like I said above, small sample sizes and weak opponent caveats apply. With that out of the way - we could be a pretty damn good defensive team this season. Not top 25 good, but we weren't top 225 good last year. This season, the interior defense looks markedly improved in the early going, and instead of running out two players that are under 6 feet, we don't start anyone under 6'2". It's not that daunting I realize, but if you saw our defense last year, you'd be shocked at how good it looks this season.

Now with that said, the point above holds - it hasn't been tested on the interior at all, and so that potential weakness is a match-up nightmare for the Gamecocks. It'll be interesting to see how they handle it.

How do you think this team will finish the year?

When Frank Martin arrived in Columbia, the two best players that remained on the roster decided to transfer - Anthony Gill to Virginia, and Damontre Harris to Florida. These were the two post players we were going to rely on in the years to come, and they were losses we simply didn't have the bodies or the talent available to absorb. At the time I said those transfers moved the entire rebuild back a year, and given last year's horrid season (a 14-18 record that was nowhere near as good as it looks), I think that's been borne out.

So this is the real first year, and while the team should return to respectability, I'm not sure that's going to be good enough to get to the postseason. Non-conference games include y'all, at Oklahoma State and Clemson, a tournament in Hawai'i that will have us square off with at least St. Mary's, and home games against three teams that could easily beat us - USC-Upstate (knocked off Virginia Tech this weekend), Manhattan (knocked off LaSalle), and Akron (their win over Coastal Carolina wasn't impressive, but it was a win!). So getting out of non-conference at 8-5 - which is potentially best-case scenario - would require us to go 8-10 in the SEC to be NIT eligible. It's possible, but I won't go so far as to say I think it will happen. My current prediction is we are dramatically improved over last year, but come up one win shy of NIT eligibility.

If I told you that South Carolina was going to win this game, without having watched it, what would you guess to have happened to make it so?

Three things:

(1) The interior defense is for real, or at least for real enough that they weren't dominated by Baylor's excellent interior game. Alternatively, the Gamecocks' stellar offensive rebounding and putback game got some of Baylor's big men into foul trouble early, mitigating this big advantage.

(2) Brenton Williams has a big game from the outside, stopping a couple of Baylor runs with a big three-point shot or a drive. Brenton was actually 26th in the nation last season in offensive rating, and while he comes off the bench, he can fill it up in a hurry if you don't watch out.

(3) The Gamecocks win the battle at the foul line - they get there more often and they make a bunch of the shots, while Baylor bricks a few front ends of 1-and-1s.
(4) Tyrone Johnson plays over 30 minutes and doesn't turn the ball over more than four times. He's going to have to lead this team in the early going from his role as one of the few upperclassmen (again, seven freshmen, and we're down a scholarship player that's on the football team), so even though it's his second game as a Gamecock, he'll have to step up and play a big role in the win.

As Bill Connelly once said, any time you're looking to predict a winner, count the ifs - how many things need to go right for your team to win? I think Carolina probably needs all four of those things to happen. I think Baylor needs Isiah Austin and Cory Jefferson not to get lost on the way to the gym. So I'm hopeful, but not expecting much. It'll be a great test to see how far our team has come from last season, and I'm looking forward to watching.

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