Alabama will continue their road trip with a visit to Columbia for the first of two games with the Gamecocks on the schedule. Alabama has had their troubles in Columbia, posting only a 2-5 record there since the 2000-2001 season. It doesn't figure to be an easy game this year either, as Frank Martin is slowly starting to turn that program around.
Preseason media polls are always ripe for debate, and this season's poll is no exception. Perhaps the most surprising prediction for me was the media picking South Carolina to finish 12th, despite the Gamecocks starting to turn a corner late last season with a home win over Kentucky and two wins in the SEC Tournament. This season, they return 7 of their top 8 scorers from last year, including a potential star in sophomore Sindarius Thornwell (13.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.9 apg, 1.1 spg, 37% 3-pt). I will be surprised if this Carolina team doesn't finish higher than 12th.
Along with Thornwell, the Carolina backcourt is in good hands with Tyrone Johnson, a 6'3 guard who was averaging 11.1 ppg and 3.4 apg before his season was cut short by injury. Also returning is Duane Notice (8.2 ppg, 36% 3-pt). Justin Mckie (son of BJ) played sparingly as a freshman, but could be expected to take on a bigger role this season.
The biggest question mark for South Carolina will be in the post. They have plenty of bodies, but consistency has been an issue, and they lack the length and athleticism of other teams in the league. Michael Carrera is under-sized at the 4, but he's tough and plays hard for 40 minutes most nights. However, he's going to need help if Carolina is going to make a jump in the standings this season. The most intriguing post player for Carolina could be sophomore Demetrius Henry. A 4 star recruit out of high school, Henry had flashes last season but will need to produce more to help provide some inside/outside balance for this Gamecock squad. If consistency continues to elude the Carolina post players, expect to see plenty of small-ball in Columbia this season.
There are those who disapprove of Frank Martin's tough love brand of coaching, but the players who have stuck it out with him at K-State and now at South Carolina have shown improvement and do play hard for the demanding coach. The general opinion is that Martin will turn things around in Columbia. This season could be the start of that anticipated better future for Gamecock basketball.