[i]Originally posted by finalfourtyniners[/i]@Nov 15 2004, 08:24 PM
[b] ouch not too impressive! [/b]
Blue Ribbon Analysis:
COACH AND PROGRAM
Before last season began, South Carolina coach Dave Odom assessed his personnel and decided that an adjustment in philosophy was in order. Defense had long been a hallmark of Odom-coached teams, and last season wouldn’t be any different. But the way the Gamecocks played defense was going to have to change.
Graduation and the preseason suspension of senior center Rolando Howell had left the Gamecocks’ frontcourt short on size. With his team defenseless in the paint, Odom had to get creative.
“We just didn’t have any size,” Odom said. “Without Rolando Howell, we started 6-7 and 6-6 up front. We decided that we couldn’t let the ball get inside.”
Thus was born South Carolina’s new look defense. Instead of hunkering down in the half-court, with a shot blocker to clean up any mistakes, the Gamecocks became full-court aggressors, pressing, trapping and darting in and out of passing lanes for deflections and steals.
The switch worked better than Odom could have hoped. The Gamecocks led the SEC in all but one defensive statistic, including scoring defense (62.6), field goal percentage defense (.394) and three-point field goal percentage defense (.292). Ironically, though Odom worried in the preseason whether his team could defend the paint, South Carolina also led the league in blocked shots per game (5.24). The Gamecocks were second behind Mississippi State in steals per game (8.82).
Early in the season, with only tapes of the previous year’s South Carolina team to use for scouting, opponents were overwhelmed by the Gamecocks’ new style of D. South Carolina jumped out to a 13-1 start that included wins at Clemson and at home against North Carolina State. The Gamecocks put together a respectable 8-8 record in the SEC and added a couple of more wins in the league tournament.
That resume was more than enough to earn South Carolina a bid to the NCAA Tournament, its first since 1998. Impressive stuff for a team picked by many to finish last in the SEC’s Eastern Division.
Assessing the 2003-04 team’s accomplishments during the summer of 2004, Odom stopped short of saying he had become a full-fledged convert to the kind of defense with which Rick Pitino’s Kentucky teams or Nolan Richardson’s vintage Arkansas teams terrorized the SEC. But South Carolina opponents had best beware: Odom plans on unleashing the Gamecocks again this season.
“Most of my teams in whatever league I’ve coached have been good defensively,” Odom said. “Last year, we had the usual emphasis on defense, but we did it a different way. So from that standpoint, it was a new identity. We’ll continue with that because we’re not a whole lot bigger than last year, and in fact might be a bit smaller.”
As the Gamecocks proved, there are certain attributes that make up for size, quickness and jumping ability being foremost among them. South Carolina has as athletic a front line as any team in the SEC.
It starts with Carlos Powell, Odom’s first significant recruit after taking over the program three years ago. A senior, the 6-7 Powell (12.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.4 apg, 1.2 spg) will be the Gamecocks’ go-to guy for a second straight season. Last year he led South Carolina in scoring and rebounding, the first player to do that since John Hudson in 1988-89. Indicative of the fact that South Carolina became increasingly dependent on him, Powell established career highs in points (23 against Clemson), rebounds (16, Gardner-Webb), assists (seven, Tennessee), blocked shots (five, Richmond) and steals (six, Clemson).
As his numbers suggest, Powell is one of the SEC’s most versatile players. Odom thinks his senior has even more to give.
“He’s had three really good years,” Odom said. “[But] we challenged Carlos during the summer to become a better player. He’s not reached the level of consistency he’s capable of reaching. We’ve asked him to step up his level of consistency.”
Joining Powell up front will be a pair of talented sophomore forwards, both of whom made significant contributions as freshman.
Renaldo Balkman, a 6-7, 198-pound sophomore, (7.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.4 apg, 1.3 bpg) was chosen to the SEC All-Freshman team last season after leading South Carolina and finishing sixth in the SEC in blocks. His 43 rejections were the most since Ryan Stack blocked 55 in 1997-98. Balkman was also third on the team in rebounding. He had season highs of 15 points versus The Citadel, nine rebounds against Charleston Southern and four blocked shots against South Carolina State and Auburn.
“Renaldo Balkman had a strong freshman season,” Odom said. Balkman’s off-season conditioning work was hampered after he underwent surgery on his thumb in May. His rehabilitation shelved him for more than two months.
Balkman’s bookend at forward is classmate Brandon Wallace (3.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.0 bpg), even more slight of build at 6-9 and 185 pounds. But like Balkman, Wallace is an athlete. He proved that against Kentucky when he scored 13 points, grabbed four rebounds, made four steals and blocked a shot in 17 minutes. Balkman blocked 36 shots, second on the team.
Looking for a little more bulk up front, Odom and his staff tapped the junior college ranks. Antoine Tisby, a 6-8, 228-pound junior, played just the second semester last season at Allen County (Kansas) Community College, averaging 17.7 points and 12.4 rebounds in nine games. Tisby has previous Division I experience, playing six games for Bradley as a freshman and averaging 5.5 points and 4.8 rebounds. He received a medical red-shirt that season and later left after a coaching change.
Tisby resurfaced at Friends University in Wichita, Kansas, where he played in 10 games in 2002-03 and averaged 20 points, 11 rebounds and 3.4 blocks.
“He’s an all-court player,” Odom said. “He can shoot the ball outside, score inside and he’s got a middle game. He’s long-armed, can dribble and pass it. He’s very versatile. We hope he’ll commit to scoring inside, where he’ll give us a presence.”
Jon Chappell (1.4 ppg, 1.4 rpg), a 6-11, 235-pound senior, and 6-10, 243-pound sophomore Paulius Joneliunas (0.6 ppg, 1.1 rpg) will compete for minutes in the frontcourt. One of the keys to South Carolina’s season is how well 6-0 sophomore Tre Kelley (5.1 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 2.0 apg) handles the point guard position. “Absolutely he’s a key,” Odom said.
Kelley played in all 34 games as a freshman and earned three starts. His shooting percentages were low (.397 FG, .264 3PT), but he showed some point guard-like numbers, making 70 percent of his free throws and passing for more assists (69) than he committed turnovers (48). Odom has a choice of which veteran shooting guard to pair with Kelley. Tarence Kinsey (8.3, ppg, 3.2 rpg), a 6-6 junior, has the size, and 6-2 senior Josh Gonner (11.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.0 apg) has the willingness to try and take charge of a game.
Kinsey was as improved as any Gamecock last season after not being much of a factor his freshman year. He quickly served notice that he was a different player after being chosen MVP of the Guardians Classic, the season-opening tournament that South Carolina won.
Kinsey scored 21 points against Idaho in the tournament’s first game, and capped off the event with 15 points and four boards against Richmond in the championship game.
Kinsey shot the ball decently from three-point range (.318) and has the size to post up and grab rebounds. He pulled a season- and career-high 11 against Arkansas in the SEC Tournament.
Gonner made an impact after transferring from junior college, finishing second on the team in scoring, tied for second in steals (44) and third in assists (68). He scored 20 or more points four times in SEC play and averaged 16 points in three SEC Tournament games. Odom would like to see Gonner become more consistent.
Just in case any of his veterans falter, Odom brought in another junior college player who can take someone’s minutes.
Roderick Trice, a 6-4 junior, averaged 21 points, nine rebounds, 4.5 steals and three assists last season at Georgia Perimeter. He was chosen the Georgia Junior College Player of the Year and a JUCO All-American. Trice is versatile enough to play either backcourt spot.
“We wanted another player who could play off guard and in a pinch move over to the one,” Odom said. “He’s a slasher/driver, decision maker and a passer who can also shoot. I really like him. He’s going to be very good.”
South Carolina also signed two freshmen. Dwayne Day, 6-6, averaged 20 points, 12 boards and six assists last season for Montgomery High School in Mount Vernon, Ga. “I really like Day,” Odom said. “I think he might be the most underrated freshman in the SEC.”
Stephen McDowell is a well-traveled 5-11 point guard who began his career at Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis, Indiana in 2001-02 before transferring to Cedar Grove (Ga.) High School, where he played the 2002 and 2003 seasons. At Cedar Grove his senior year, McDowell averaged 20 points, five assists and two steals.
Last season McDowell trained at the IMG Basketball Academy in Bradenton, Fla., a post-graduate program.
BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS
After finally get his program untracked in 2003-04, Dave Odom’s went into the off-season with far fewer concerns than he had the year before.
“Last year, we had more questions than answers in the summer,” Odom said. “Somehow those questions were answered. This year there shouldn’t be as many questions. My job is different. I’ve got to keep [the Gamecocks] from being fat and happy. We haven’t accomplished what I think we’re capable of accomplishing. Last year we made the NCAA Tournament. Not a lot of people, including myself, thought that was possible. This year’s team will be held to a different standard. They’ve got to measure up to that.”
Toward that end, Odom is looking for some leadership. After the loss of senior guard Michael Boynton, that won’t be easy.
“Michael Boynton was the finest leader I’ve ever coached,” Odom said. “Losing him has created a huge void from a leadership standpoint. Who will that be? I don’t know. Carlos [Powell] is a guy you look to early. But asking him or anybody to do it the way Michael did it is going to be asking a bit much.”
If a leader steps forward and the Gamecocks can once again keep their opponents off guard with their newfound aggressive defense, South Carolina can continue its upward mobility under Odom. Earning another NCAA bid in the rugged SEC might be asking a bit much, but this team has realistic post-season tournament expectations.