It hasn’t been easy being a fan of South Carolina men’s basketball. Since their historic Final Four run in 2017, the Gamecocks have been pretty lousy of late – a run of ineptitude made all the more obvious given the fact the school’s women’s basketball program has been the best team in America over that period.
In the six seasons following their first deep NCAA run, South Carolina’s men’s program has posted an atrocious 86-93 (.480) record – including a 45-61 (.424) mark against Southeastern Conference opponents. Not surprisingly, the team hasn’t so much as sniffed postseason play over that stretch – which included a disastrous 11-21 (4-14 SEC) debut last season for new head coach Lamont Paris.
Paris, our audience will recall, was not the first choice for the South Carolina job after former head coach Frank Martin was fired. Nor was he the second choice. Or even the third choice. Nor, for that matter, was he the fan favorite.
For the moment, though, Paris has silenced his critics with a blazing 12-1 start headed into South Carolina’s SEC opener this Saturday night (January 6, 2024) against the Mississippi State Bulldogs. The Gamecocks will play eighteen consecutive conference opponents – not including the conference tournament – meaning they would not play another non-conference foe until (unless) they qualify for either the NIT or NCAA tournament.
Current ranked opponents include No. 5 Tennessee (January 30 in Knoxville and again on March 6 in Columbia), No. 6 Kentucky (January 23 in Columbia), No. 19 Ole Miss (February 6 in Columbia and again on February 24 in Oxford) and No. 24 Auburn (February 14 on the Plains).
Several other SEC teams – including Mississippi State – are on the cusp of the national rankings.
Paris’ team couldn’t have asked for a more emphatic conclusion to their non-conference slate – a 94-62 shredding of Florida Atlantic which set a new record for points scored under the 49-year-old Findlay, Ohio native. The defeat of the Rattlers also saw South Carolina register 21 assists – another record for the Paris era.
The Gamecocks lone loss of the year? A 72-67 road defeat at the hands of No. 16 Clemson, which is off to its hottest start in sixteen years.
Pacing Paris’ attack is junior guard Meechie Johnson of Cleveland, Ohio, who is averaging 17.7 points per game. Graduate transfer forward B.J. Mack of Charlotte is next with 14 points per game while junior guard Myles Stute of Washington D.C. – a transfer from Vanderbilt – is averaging 10.6 points per game.
I’ve often noted there’s a huge difference in silencing your critics and proving them wrong – something South Carolina head football coach Shane Beamer learned the hard way in 2023. If South Carolina can simply break even in conference play, though, that would mark a huge year-two turnaround for Paris. And if the Gamecocks manage to beat the teams they’re supposed to beat – and limit losses to ranked opponents – they are at least an NCAA bubble team.
Which would be nothing short of a miracle for Paris … and a huge boost to underperforming athletics director Ray Tanner.
Tipoff at Colonial Life Arena in downtown Columbia, S.C. is set for 12:00 p.m. EST with Saturday’s game being televised nationally on CBS. John Sadak will call the play-by-play with former Villanova coach Steve Lappas providing color commentary.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina and before that he was a bass guitarist and dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven (soon to be eight) children.
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