Football season is just about to begin, but that doesn’t mean that South Carolina basketball fans aren’t anxiously anticipating the upcoming season (after, hopefully, a very successful year for Shane Beamer’s bunch).
With a new-look roster sporting 9 total newcomers, the Gamecocks are also going to play a different style than they did in year 1 of the Lamont Paris era.
Last season, behind 5-star freshman GG Jackson, grad transfer Hayden Brown, and Ohio State transfer Meechie Johnson, much of the Carolina offense consisted of 1-on-1 isolation basketball. The Gamecocks’ three leading scorers accounted for almost 2/3 of the team’s total scoring.
South Carolina basketball did shoot the 5th-most shots from outside in the SEC a season ago, but the looks came off the dribble almost as often as they came from good ball movement. That negative trend appears set to change this season.
The trio of scorers were not the primary at-fault parties in last season’s offensive crumminess; instead, the style of offense they were forced to play was the bigger issue. The roster needed more talented scorers in order to be successful.
Now, Jackson is in the NBA, Brown has graduated, and Johnson seems poised to move to more of an off-ball role this winter. That, combined with the new talent brought in from the transfer portal and high school ranks, means the Gamecocks’ offensive attack likely will look drastically different.
The South Carolina basketball program’s newcomers will play a big role in the new-look plan for putting the ball in the basket.
Wofford transfer BJ Mack is all but guaranteed to start down low in the 2023-2024 season, and he will be one of the top scorers for Paris’ group. His size (6’8″, 250 pounds) and skill (he scored 1.06 points per possession in post-up opportunities last season for the Terriers) will allow him to score on the block, and his shooting ability (36% career shooter from 3-point land) will provide spacing that was lacking at times last season.
A more traditional big will fight Josh Gray for the other starting spot down low. The Citadel transfer Stephen Clark was a good scorer in the So-Con last year, primarily on short drives and low-post chances. Clark is also a shot blocker who, like Gray, can play next to the more-grounded Mack or a small-ball 4 like Myles Stute or Ebrima Dibba. He’s never been a shooting threat, but word out of Columbia is that he has been taking a lot of jumpers in practice and on the team’s Bahamas trip.
Myles Stute, a combo forward from Vanderbilt, could be the team’s best shooter this season. Stute shot 36% and 43% from outside in his previous two seasons in Nashville, and Coach Paris is hoping he can bring those shooting chops to a Gamecock lineup that will launch the ball with reckless abandon from outside.
Ta’Lon Cooper, the probably starting point guard who will move Johnson and Jacobi Wright to more off-ball roles this season if he can play well, is also a good outside shooter. Cooper has shot an impressive 37% from deep in his career, and his ability to pass the ball (top-10 nationally in assists per game in the 2022-2023 season) should allow the other Gamecocks some open looks, as well.
Paris’ efforts in the transfer portal included bringing in four quality shooters, Meechie Johnson has never found a shot he didn’t have confidence in taking, and Jacobi Wright shot the ball better down the stretch last season. All of those reasons would be enough to expect the CourtCocks to take and make a large number of shots from downtown starting in November.
However, there is another reason to expect a 3-point bombardment this season: the freshman class can shoot the rock, too.
4-star power forward Collin Murray-Boyles has reshaped his body over the last year to make himself a more well-rounded offensive player, and now that he is on campus, he has fit in seamlessly to the new offensive approach. In addition to showing off some impressive athleticism and finishing, during the Bahamas exhibitions, CMB comfortably popped out to the 3-point line on multiple occasions and made both of his shots from behind the arc.
Fellow Columbia native Arden Conyers is not quite as “ready to play” as Murray-Boyles, but he has an intriguing offensive game. His best skill? You guessed it: outside shooting. The lengthy wing player could play anywhere from the 2-guard to power forward spots in the future, depending on how his body develops, and shooting success will go a long way in determining his playing time.
The other three freshmen, Finnish point guard Morris Ugusuk and walk-on combo guards Austin Herro and Danny Grajzl, are decent shooters, as well. All three players have some room for improvement from outside, but they were confident shot-takers at the high school level, and confidence is half the battle in being a successful jump shooter.
If returning players like Wright, Zachary Davis, and Eli Sparkman provide some outside scoring, too, the 3-point numbers could be among the conference’s best this year.
Personnel predictions are not the only reason to think there will be many jumpers in the garnet and black future. Clips from practices and the Summer of Thunder Bahamas exhibition both seem to indicate outside shots will be the preferred end result on offense if easy buckets at the rim are not available.
Earlier this offseason, Lamont Paris even said that he is a fan of the mantra “Like the three, love the rim.” Offense should be about scoring most efficiently. According to analytics, the best places to score on the floor are from right by the basket and from open 3-point jump shots.
Overall, the 2022-2023 version of the South Carolina basketball squad was one of the worst offenses in college basketball. The Gamecocks averaged just 64.3 points per game last season, a number that ranked 339th out of 363 Division-I basketball teams. That putrid level of production cannot continue if the Gamecocks want to be successful in a power conference like the SEC.
There is no guarantee that the new offensive philosophy will work for the Gamecocks, but it is encouraging for South Carolina basketball fans that the coaching staff saw the need for change after last season’s approach failed.
The Gamecocks could be a “live by the 3-ball, die by the 3-ball” type of offensive unit this season, but that sure sounds better to Carolina fans than an offense that just dies, no matter what.