All numbers in the Stat Box are from the 2013-14 season
By most metrics, including in the eyes of head coach James Green, last year was a disappointment for the Gamecocks. Coming off a 17-11 year, hopes were high, but last year’s team ultimately fell flat.
This year is a sort of redemption tour for the guys with the program two years ago. They know what they’re capable of, they know last year’s effort wasn’t good enough to get them there — and they know they have another chance. For their best players — it’s their last.
Their quest kicks off with a brutal road swing — with an interesting, if unknown opener.
Marshall was just 11-22 last year, but they got there thanks in part to an extremely young team. It led to a change at coach, with Dan D’Antoni taking the reigns. The last name probably sounds familiar, and for good reason: Dan is the older brother to NBA coach Mike D’Antoni. Dan was an assistant under his little brother at all three of his recent stops — which probably tells us a lot about what style he’s going to want to play: Faster than fast.
That young team I mentioned: three of their top four scorers were freshman and sophomores. But as often happens with a coach change, two of those three transferred out of the program. Combined with their top scorer graduation, D’Antoni has a mostly new team under his wing in his first season.
The one returner of the bunch is 6’5 Ryan Taylor. Don’t let the height number fool you — this is a forward, and the leading rebounder for the Thundering Herd last year. Taylor was ranked as a top-10 impact player in the C-USA after an outstanding freshman year, and will likely be relied upon on in the post. Last year, Taylor struggled with fouls, fouling out of nine contests. He’s not afraid to stretch the defense and take three’s, (his 29.7% three-point percentage suggests maybe he should be) and racked up seven double-doubles a year ago.
The Herd does return two seniors who played significant time last year in 6’6 Shawn Smith and 6’9 Cheikik Sane. They have another 6’9 center as well in JP Kamola giving them some size options.
That’s a bit of a problem. JSU is likely to start three guards at 6’3 or smaller — meaning even if Taylor plays the three, JSU doesn’t have the size to match.
While defense may win championships, Jacksonville State’s struggles on the offensive end of the ball did them no favors a year ago. The Gamecocks ranked last in offensive efficiency in the Ohio Valley Conference, but return four of their top five scorers, including Darion Rackley. Rackley played in just 18 games year, sidelined for more than a month by a hand injury. As the team’s leading scorer — they need him to go the whole season, and hopeful he can do so.
D.J. Felder improved throughout the year, earning his way back into the starting lineup after losing a starting role last December. He averaged just 20 minutes a game, but his 8.3 points were third on the team. He’ll be expected to play longer minutes this year — and his production should rise as well.
It’s a long year — but this is an interesting way to start things. Marshall will look to play a tempo that’s been a bit uncomfortable for Jacksonville State under Green. It’s an good benchmark to start the year — before harder opponents come the Gamecocks way.