South Carolina moved to 10-0 on the season on Friday night as they were able to outlast in-state rival Clemson. Junior wing Sindarius Thornwell put down one of the better poster dunks of the early season by throwing it down on Clemson’s Landry Nnoko.
The former four-star recruit has been an important player for the Gamecocks the last three seasons as he’s averaging 11.7 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4 assists per game on the season.
Coach: South Carolina finally has depth to make NCAA run
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Fourth-year basketball coach Frank Martin believes he has finally reached a key milestone at South Carolina.
“I don’t have to play the guys I get mad at anymore,” he said. “We’ve got enough people.”
Martin said he has depth and a group of upperclassmen, including guards Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice and forwards Laimonas Chatkevicius and Michael Carrera, who can take ownership of the program and mentor young players like McDonald’s All-American P.J. Dozier.
Martin and the Gamecocks are looking to build off last year’s 17-16 mark, South Carolina’s first winning record since the 2008-09 team went 21-10.
“They’re out there teaching the freshmen. They’re out there talking. They’re out there helping the next guy,” Martin said. “They understand what they’re doing which then allows me to be more creative”
The Gamecocks could surely use some creativity. The team won just 14 games in each of Martin’s first two years, the first two seasons of his career he finished with losing records. South Carolina looked ready to make a splash last season when it entered Southeastern Conference play at 10-3 and fresh off a victory over then-No. 9 Iowa State.
But the Gamecocks lost 11 of their next 14 games and were filled with problems. Thornwell, an SEC all-freshman a year earlier, played on two bad knees and Martin suspended forwards Demetrius Henry and Shamiek Sheppard were suspended for the rest of the season for violating team rules.
The two later transferred.
Still, South Carolina rebounded to win four of its last six games (including two in the SEC tournament) to ensure a winning mark.
Martin said his newcomers, which include 6-foot-9 forwards Eric Cobb and Chris Silva, are the kind who can compete in the rugged SEC.
Thornwell had injections during the offseason to fight off tendinitis in his knees, which he played with all last year. His numbers showed that. A season after averaging 15.6 points and 4.9 rebounds against SEC opponents, Thornwell had just 10.6 points and 4.2 rebounds this past year. Even worse for the Gamecocks, Thornwell has little of the high-flying spring he showed as a freshman.
The other day, though, Thornwell dunked to the delight of himself, his teammates and coaches.
“I told him, `I hadn’t seen that since the third grade,”‘ Martin joked.
Thornwell, the 6-5 junior, hopes to show more of that this year.
“Physically, I feel good,” he said. “I can walk better, run better, cut better, move better. That was first time dunking since freshman year. It felt going being able to touch the rim again.”
Guard Duane Notice, the team’s leading scorer last year at 11.7 points a game, went through a midseason drought last year and coincided with South Carolina’s SEC struggles. Martin said Notice has worked to make sure he’s prepared for a full season.
It helps to have Dozier, the 6-5 son of former South Carolina player Perry Dozier and sister of Asia Dozier, a starter on the Gamecocks’ Final Four women’s basketball team. The newest Dozier turned down Louisville, Michigan and North Carolina to stay near home in Columbia.
Martin said Dozier has worked at the point guard spot because he thinks and plays that way.
The biggest impact for South Carolina could be along the front line.
Chatkevicius, Carrera and Mindaugas Kacinas have handled much of the work underneath the past three seasons. Martin believes Cobb and Silva will do their share, despite their youth.
“I think we have too many guys now,” Chatkevicius said. “I’m not used to that. Glad to see so many faces here.”
The depth gives Martin hope these Gamecocks can get back to the NCAA Tournament, someplace they have not been since 2004.
South Carolina has the pieces on their roster to be a team that makes some noise in the SEC this season, but that is dependent on some of their most important players getting healthy.
Namely, junior Sindarius Thornwell and redshirt freshman TeMarcus Blanton, both of whom underwent surgery over the summer. Thornwell had a procedure done on his knees while Blanton underwent surgery on a dislocated hip, an injury that was similar to what Bo Jackson did that ended his career.
Blanton is ahead of schedule on his recovery, but both he and Thornwell are being held out of competition for now.
“[Blanton] was supposed to be doing the stuff he’s doing now in August, so he’s about two months ahead of schedule,” head coach Frank Martin told the Charleston Post and Courier. “As far as sprinting, running, cutting, jumping — he does everything in the weight room and conditioning and agilities when we’re on the court with the exception of competing. We’re not allowing him to get in live competition yet, neither him nor Sindarius. But they do everything else. We don’t need to overload them, either one. We don’t have a game next week.”
That same story also said that incoming freshman P.J. Dozier, a McDonald’s All-American, is working his way into shape. Keyword: working.
“He and the garbage can became best friends that first week [of practice],” Martin said. “Every time I turned around, his head was inside of it.”
Saturday’s win over No. 9 Iowa State gives South Carolina additional momentum entering SEC play
While there was little doubt that Frank Martin’s South Carolina Gamecocks have improved, with guards Ty Johnson, Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice leading the way, just how good they were was up for debate heading into Saturday’s game against No. 9 Iowa State in Brooklyn. The Gamecocks won six in a row prior to their matchup with the Cyclones, but outside of Oklahoma State none of those teams would be considered a serious threat to reach the NCAA tournament with one (Coker College) being a non-Division I program.
That’s what makes Saturday’s result, a 64-60 win over the Cyclones, so important for a program that was in search of a “signature win” that would serve as concrete evidence that they have improved.
Notice (six rebounds, four assists) led the way offensively for the Gamecocks with 15 points and Johnson (three assists) and Thornwell (eight rebounds) added 13 apiece, but the biggest story of the game was Iowa State’s inability to knock down perimeter shots. Entering Saturday’s game as one of the best shooting teams in the country (7th in field goal percentage), the Cyclones made just one of their 18 attempts with the lone make being provided by Naz Long with less than a minute remaining.
On the season Iowa State shot 36.5% from three and with credible threats such as Long, Bryce Dejean-Jones, and Georges Niang, when falling those shots open up everything else for the Cyclones. That didn’t happen against South Carolina, with the Gamecocks limiting the Cyclones to 46.2% shooting inside of the arc. By comparison, Iowa State entered the game shooting better than 60 percent from two.
Dustin Hogue and Jameel McKay scored 15 apiece for Iowa State, but Niang (ten points) made just three of his 13 attempts on the night. For that South Carolina deserves credit, and led by a perimeter trio that can cause problems for the opposition the Gamecocks will win games in the SEC.
Given who they’d beaten in the six games prior to Saturday’s win, it would have been tough for some to buy in and make that statement without a quality performance against Iowa State. The win gives Martin and his program added evidence that they are headed in the right direction, and Wednesday’s SEC opener against Florida represents another opportunity for the Gamecocks to make a positive statement.
The wing position in college basketball this season will be fun to keep track of. It can be argued that from a depth standpoint this is the strongest position for incoming freshmen, with two players expected to be NBA Draft lottery selections in the near future and others expected to have a significant impact on their team’s fortunes. But there are also skilled veterans among the ranks, including one who reached the Final Four last season and another whose team fell one win short of that goal. What’s the common bond amongst many of these players? Versatility, which allows them to impact games in multiple facets.
Below are some of the best wings in college basketball this season, beginning with a gifted freshman from the Pac-12.
1. Stanley Johnson, Arizona: Johnson has the build of a pro and the skill set to match, as he’s capable of scoring at all three levels with great consistency. He’s no slouch on the defensive end either, which is key when fitting into what was one of the nation’s best defensive teams a season ago. In a season without a clear-cut choice for national Player of the Year, Arizona’s freshman wing could be right in the mix come March.
2. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin: Dekker went from reserve to starter in 2013-14 and his productivity was one reason for the Badgers’ trek to the Final Four. Dekker averaged 12.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, shooting nearly 47 percent from the field. If he can raise his three-point shooting back to freshman year levels (39.1%), and he looked better shooting the ball at the LeBron James Skills Academy in July, Dekker becomes an even tougher assignment for opposing teams.
3. Delon Wright, Utah: The late Bum Phillips’ words regarding Earl Campbell may apply to Wright when it comes to discussing the most versatile players in college basketball: “he may not be in a class by himself, but it don’t take long to call roll.” Wright (15.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 5.3 apg) was a pivotal figure for the Utes in 2013-14, leading the team in scoring and assists. It could be argued that Wright should be on the lead guards list given how often he’s allowed to initiate the offense for Larry Krystkowiak’s team, but he fits in at any of the three perimeter positions.
4. Kelly Oubre, Kansas: One of three freshmen to make the top ten in our list, Oubre has the skill set needed to be one of the most gifted scorers in the country immediately. The 6-foot-8 lefty has a slight build, but he can finish through contact and is a good perimeter shooter as well. Oubre also uses ball screens well, an attribute that was on display at the adidas Nations camp in August. Given the production Kansas lost on the wing in the form of Andrew Wiggins, Oubre will have plenty of chances to put points on the board.
5. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona: Hollis-Jefferson is one of the best on-ball defenders in the country, and he was very good around the basket as a freshman. The question for Hollis-Jefferson (9.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg in 2013-14) is a simple one: how much has he improved his perimeter shooting over the summer? Hollis-Jefferson showed progress in July at the Lebron camp, and a consistent perimeter shot would make him an even tougher player for opponents to defend.
6. Treveon Graham, VCU: The 6-foot-6 senior has been a consistently productive player for Shaka Smart throughout his career, averaging 15.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game last season. Graham can certainly shoot the ball from the perimeter, but he’s good in the mid-range game and can put the ball on the deck as well. He’ll be one of the leaders for a team expected by many to win the Atlantic 10.
7. Justin Jackson, North Carolina: The third freshman in the top ten, the 6-foot-8 Jackson can score both inside and out for the Tar Heels in 2014-15. As a high school senior Jackson averaged 31.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game, and his length makes him a nuisance on the defensive end of the floor.
8. Aaron White, Iowa: With Roy Devyn Marble having moved on, the 6-foot-8 White will be an even more important player for the Hawkeyes in 2014-15. As a junior White averaged 12.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, shooting 58.6% from the field. The loss of Marble should open up more opportunities for White, especially when it comes to the mid-range game where he was so successful a season ago.
9. Branden Dawson, Michigan State: Dawson’s had to navigate injuries for most of his career in East Lansing, but there should be little doubt regarding his skill level. Last season Dawson averaged 11.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest, and given the amount of production the Spartans lost (Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne) the senior will need to be even more influential on the offensive end.
10. Wesley Saunders, Harvard: Saunders is one of the leaders for the Crimson, having averaged 14.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game as a junior. Saunders’ versatility is one of his greatest attributes, and he’s also done a good job of getting to the foul line in each of the last two seasons.
THE NEXT TEN
11. Anthony Brown, Stanford
12. Justise Winslow, Duke
13. Winston Shepard III, San Diego State
14. Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina
15. Bryce Dejean-Jones, Iowa State
16. Sam Thompson, Ohio State
17. Dustin Hogue, Iowa State
18. Theo Pinson, North Carolina
19. Kyle Collinsworth, BYU
20. Anthony Drmic, Boise State
ALSO CONSIDERED: Justin Anderson (Virginia), Patricio Garino (George Washington), Vince Hunter (UTEP), Nick King (Memphis), Justin Martin (SMU), Sheldon McClellan (Miami), Larry Nance Jr. (Wyoming), Le’Bryan Nash (Oklahoma State), Marcus Thornton (Georgia), Tyrone Wallace (California), Byron Wesley (Gonzaga).
South Carolina’s 75-67 loss at Texas A&M on Wednesday was the third straight for Frank Martin’s team, and on Thursday the school announced that they suffered a personnel loss in the game as well.
Guard Tyrone Johnson, one of three players averaging 11.2 points per game to lead the way for the Gamecocks, suffered a broken right foot in the defeat and as a result is out indefinitely due to the need for surgery. Johnson played 13 minutes on Wednesday night before suffering the injury, and for the season the Villanova transfer was playing nearly 27 minutes per contest.
To say the least Johnson was an important cog in the Gamecock attack, not only because of his scoring ability but also the fact that he’s the team’s assist leader (3.4 apg). In the four games prior to his injury Johnson was averaging 15.5 points and 2.3 assists per game, shooting 42.3% from the field.
With Johnson out of the lineup more will be asked of Sindarius Thornwell and Brenton Williams, who like Johnson are currently averaging 11.2 points per game. And against Texas A&M freshman Duane Notice accounted for 12 points and five assists. Notice has tallied six assists in two games and eight in South Carolina’s 82-75 win over South Carolina State on January 3, and his ability as a distributor becomes even more important as a result of Johnson’s injury.