Key Losses: G Josh Gonner (8.7 ppg, 1.7 apg), F Carlos Powell (16.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg)
Postseason: NIT Defeated Miami 69–67, defeated UNLV 77–66, defeated Georgetown 69–66, defeated Maryland 75–67, defeated Saint Joseph’s 60–57 in the championship game
Augusta, GA/TW Josey
Senegal/Redlands (OK) CC
Venezuela/Eastern Oklahoma State College
Anaheim, CA/Fullerton (CA) College
The Gamecocks will count on junior college transfers Palacios and Konate to contribute immediately on the interior. Archie, an athletic freshman, will need a year to develop. Sheldon, the third junior college transfer among the newcomers, figures to provide outside shooting touch and scoring punch off the bench.
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Dave Odom achieved history last spring, leading South Carolina to a thrilling championship.
Of course, the National Invitation Tournament title is a long way from the championship Odom and South Carolina's ardent fan base prefer. But since the Gamecocks haven't won an NCAA Tournament game since 1973, their 60-57 win over Saint Joseph's at Madison Square Garden was enough for now.
And Odom hopes it will provide a spark for more meaningful wins in the future.
"It was a tremendously valuable experience for our players that are returning," Odom says. "I really believe that they have latched on to that and have attached themselves to 'While this is great, there could be something else better for us out there for South Carolina basketball.'"
The departure of Carlos Powell, the Gamecocks' top scorer each of the past two seasons, leaves plenty of questions in the paint. Antoine Tisby could provide most of the answers. A 6-8, 230-pound senior, Tisby struggled most of last season, serving a pair of suspensions before finally finding his groove over the season's final six weeks.
Renaldo Balkman, a 6-8 junior who earned SEC All-Freshman honors two years ago, struggled to average just 5.4 points and 4.8 rebounds in a lackadaisical sophomore year. His play is vital to South Carolina's hopes.
"He has the ability to be extremely good," Odom says. "In certain flashes, he is that good. But he has to work to improve his ball skills, his shot, his defense, (and be) more consistent every single day."
Junior college transfers Kevin Palacios and Ousmane Konate must arrive ready to play immediately in order to provide depth behind Tisby. Both are big bodies, but both also were late signees after the Gamecocks failed to land four other big men they sought.
Small forward Brandon Wallace could blossom into a decent scorer, but the 6-9, 195-pound junior is more of perimeter threat, though he worked in the offseason to add bulk.
"My guess is that he will be our most improved player," Odom says. "He will be one of our leaders. He has an enormous amount of ability."
The Gamecocks' top scoring threats figure to be senior swingman Tarence Kinsey and junior point guard Tre' Kelley.
Kinsey is South Carolina's top perimeter shooter and he beat St. Joe's with a 3-pointer at the buzzer in the NIT final. Kinsey made 38.7 percent of his 3-pointers. That was up from 31.8 percent a season earlier, and Odom believes Kinsey will continue his positive trend.
With Kelley returning for his junior season, Odom will have the same starting point guard in consecutive years for the first time in his South Carolina tenure. The Washington, D.C., playmaker will look to improve his 8.9-point scoring average and maintain his 3.6 assists per game.
"To be able to get some continuity will be fun," Odom says of Kelley. "He now understands how to run a team."
Also back is Rocky Trice, an athletic 6-2 wing who lacks a consistent shooting touch but makes up for it with defense and rebounding.
Dwayne Day, at 6-7, played sparingly as a freshman but should push for significantly more minutes in his sophomore season. He has a decent shooting touch and is a long, lean player who must show the ability to defend in the Gamecocks' full-court pressure and man-to-man sets.
Barring significant regressions in play by Kelley, Kinsey and Trice, South Carolina figures to have the backcourt depth and experience to hang tough in the SEC. But for the Gamecocks to make the NCAA Tournament, interior players like Balkman, Tisby and Wallace need to be much more productive.
South Carolina should play to its strengths by using pressure defenses to take advantage of its speed and quickness on the perimeter.
But given Tisby's inconsistent play and Wallace's physical limitations, it's hard to expect the Gamecocks to make a significant move in the SEC Eastern Division.
Unless a star emerges in Columbia, South Carolina is likely headed back to the NIT.