2009-10 SEC Basketball Previews: South Carolina

Kurt WirthCorrespondent IOctober 21, 2009

ATLANTA - MARCH 14:  Devan Downey #2 of the South Carolina Gamecocks makes a shot over Wayne Chism #4 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament on March 14, 2008 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

For the second-straight season, the Gamecocks return nearly every single player on their roster.

Second-year head coach Darrin Horn is hoping that, for the second-straight season, the Gamecocks won't underachieve.

Despite being one of the most experienced rosters in the league last season, USC only managed 21 wins and a first-round NIT exit.

Last year's squad was dangerous, but inconsistent. And there certainly was significant improvement from the previous two years, but not nearly as much as many expected, despite tying for the SEC Eastern Division Championship.

The issue this coming year is that, though the team is likely the most experienced in the league with eight upperclassmen on the roster, the SEC has caught up. Last year, the league was weak, but specifically the East has retooled and every team but Georgia could legitimately challenge for the division this season.

Last year seemed to be USC's shot at making a statement and although the team improved heavily, it fell just short of making a name for itself.

This season, it will be much, much harder to do so.

The team brings back every major contributor to that team minus Zam Fredrick, the team's top shooter. Also gone are Branden Conrad and Mitchell Carter, neither of who played more than 20 games last season.

To replace them, Horn has some respectable talent coming into Columbia.


Lakeem Jackson
(No. 68 overall, No. 15 SF, 4 stars, 6'5", 200lbs)

Jackson has energy to spare, both on offense and defense. His strength, speed, and aggressiveness will suit him well if they translate into college. His tendency to turn the ball over while slashing to the basket, however, needs to be limited and his shooting touch could improve.

Ultimately, he's a big guard-type that, once the learning process is complete, has the body of a successful SEC player. Could start.

Ramon Galloway
(No. 13 PG, 3 stars, 6'2", 170lbs)

Galloway has blinding speed and huge hops, and is very long for his size. He's great driving to the rim, but can see the floor as a point, as well.

He will probably endure some growing pains in college, but he should be ready to step into Downey's shoes next season.

Steve Spinella
(No. 44 SG, 3 stars, 6'5", 180lbs)

The Gamecocks desperately needed to add size on their perimeter, and have done so in this long, sizeable shooter.

Spinella is not much more than a shooter, but his shooting touch could be potent if it can endure SEC defenses. With his size, I suspect he'll have a better shot than most.

Johndre Jefferson
(PF, 2 stars, 6'9", 205lbs)

With the Gamecocks suffering at times last season due to their lack of size in all areas of the floor, Jefferson should help provide a big body to take some pressure off defensively.

Jefferson is a capable shot-blocker and is relatively quick for his size, but isn't much of a scorer.

Hard to tell whether the offseason brought a net gain or loss for the Gamecocks, as Fredrick was crucially important for the team but the addition is substantial. Jackson may get the start, or may be the first man off the bench. He might be able to provide a spark offensively to compensate for Fredrick's departure.


Devan Downey , 5'9", 170lb Senior PG
(19.8ppg, 2.8rpg, 89 stl, 1.3 A/TO)

Downey is one of the most well-known names in the SEC, but also one of the more overrated.

What he does well, he does very well. He handles the ball with care, is an excellent passer and is the best on-ball defender in the league.

His scoring prowess, however, is less potent than most would have you believe. Downey is potent slashing to the rim, but despite his 150 attempts from long-range last season he only managed to make 34.7 percent of those.

Downey is a tremendous player and dynamic offensive and defensive force, but his shooting needs to improve this season if he hopes to compete for SEC Player of the Year.

Dominique Archie , 6'7", 216lb Senior SF
(10.9ppg, 6.4rpg, 50.8% FG, 47 stl)

Archie is a powerful all-around player who can do everything required of him. He is one of the best rebounders in the league at his position, his length makes him a dangerous defender both on and off the ball, and he has a solid jumper to complement his offensive package.

He can also shoot competently behind the arc, making him incredibly difficult to defend. His energy will be crucial to the Gamecocks' success this season.

Mike Holmes , 6'7", 230lb Junior PF
(10.8ppg, 7.7rpg, 37 blk, 40 stl)

Holmes is one of the more under-appreciated big-men in the league because of his relative lack of offensive skill.

His shooting is pretty close to awful, and his ball-handling is worse. On top of this, his mark from the charity stripe was 45.8 percent last season.

However, his rebounding is highly efficient and he is a lockdown defender. He should either opt to shoot less or improve his shot-selection, but he is a valuable starter regardless.

Brandis Raley-Ross , 6'2", 194lb Senior SG
(7.0ppg, 2.6rpg, 1.09 A/TO, 41.8% FG)

Raley-Ross struggles in most areas of the game. His shooting touch is nothing more than adequate, his rebounding leaves room to be desired, and his defense is flat-out bad.

Despite starting seven games last season, it's tough to imagine Raley-Ross playing more than a backup role on this year's team.

Evaldas Banilius , 6'7", 215lb Senior SF
(6.4ppg, 2.6rpg, 48.0% 3PT, 47.5% FG)

Banilius is an underused shooter. That percentage isn't a trickhe attempted 100 shots last season and made 48 of them. Some serious shooting.

His ability to hold onto the ball and defense are lacking, but his shooting alone could sneak him into the starting lineup if it continues to be as consistent as it was a year ago.

Sam Muldrow , 6'9", 220 Junior C
(5.6ppg, 5.3rpg, 56.5% FG, 39 blk)

Though he's no Varnado, Muldrow is a great shot-blocker. In fact, he's the SEC's second-most efficient returning swatter.

He's reliable offensively, as well. His range is as limited as you'd expect a center's to be, but he is great in and around the paint.

He's the clean-up kind of guy who can do everything that's required. He's got size and can rebound. Not a great ball-handler, but he isn't asked to do much with the ball.

Muldrow could very well compete for a starting spot for the small USC team to add size and experience underneath the basket.

Austin Steed , 6'8", 235lb Junior C
(3.9ppg, 3.6rpg, 49.4% FG, 31blk)

Steed is pretty close to a twin of Muldrow, ability-wise. Neither can hold onto the ball, but both are potent shot-blockers and reliable scorers. Steed has a bit more size and is more assertive offensively, but takes riskier shots.

Robert Wilder , 6'1", 188lb Senior PG
(0.2ppg, 0.2rpg, 42.9% FT, 3 stl)

Despite seeing a little less than five minutes per game and action in 29 of them, Wilder put up eye-poppingly horrible numbers. He has zero confidence and is one of the most irrelevant and inefficient players in the league.

The Gamecocks don't have a ton of depth, but do have a good deal of talent in the top seven or eight-man rotation. The peculiar aspect of USC's roster is that nearly every player has some glaring weakness at their own position, and those weaknesses will need to be complemented with a consistent rotation of players if the Gamecocks hope to make the NCAA Tournament this season.


Schedule Breakdown

Cupcakes : Alabama A&M (H), Georgia Southern (H), Jacksonville (H), Wofford (A), Furman (H), Longwood (H)

Real Games : La Salle (N), Western Kentucky (H), Richmond (H),

Marquee Matchups : Clemson (A), Boston College (A), Baylor (H)

Opposite Division : Auburn (A), LSU (H), Ole Miss (A), Arkansas (A),
Mississippi State (H), Alabama (H)

Predicted Result : (16-12, 7-9), No Postseason

Analysis : While South Carolina may be a better team than last year, it won't show. Losing its second-leading scorer and bringing in only one sure-fire immediate contributor, coupled with the massive strengthening of the SEC East, should prove a setback for the Gamecocks this season.


What's Returning

Points : 77.61 percent (5th—SEC Avg: 73.81 percent)

Rebounds : 87.94 percent (3rd—SEC Avg: 75.80 percent)


Surprisingly to some, USC has an uphill battle to fight this season. Points must be replaced, balance must be found and an all-out dogfight with the SEC East must be waged.

The Gamecocks have the talent to contend for an NIT birth, but the NCAA's will be a massive over-achievement.