STS: South Carolina has gotten off to a nice start and even cracked the national rankings at #25 this week. It's not totally surprising, as we said in the schedule analysis portion of our season preview that "The Cocks return a good bit of talent and rightfully have NCAA tournament aspirations." Given the Cocks haven't played any notable opponents yet (in fairness, they will play St. John's and Memphis), has anything about their play exceeded your expectations?
GABA: Absolutely. I figured they'd have one loss or so by this point in the season but I felt South Carolina would face a tougher opponent at some point during the Paradise Jam, Florida State to be exact, but the Gamecocks got Hofstra instead. In retrospect, they should have beaten everyone they have played so far but what is surprising is how they've done it. USC has been rather dominant in their wins. We knew Frank Martin would have his team playing defense but the offense, particularly the outside shooting, has definitely exceeded my expectations so far.
STS: P.J. Dozier came in as a very highly-touted recruit, and coming out of Columbia, he decided to stay close to home. How big of a recruiting win is he for the Gamecocks? His shooting numbers are a bit down, do you expect them to jump up this season, or does he need a bit more time?
GABA: It was a huge win for South Carolina as Frank Martin fought off several high-profile programs for Dozier's talents. Martin has put a priority on keeping the local kids home, he got Sindarius Thornwell and Marcus Stroman, then added Dozier, but has missed on Tevin Mack, L.J. Peak and Seventh Woods. I think Dozier needs more time, I didn't expect him to be a one-and-done type player. If you've been watching, he's already made significant strides since the opener but I believe year two is when he will really blossom - he'll have his moments this season however to create a stir.
STS: The Cocks have five players averaging double-digit points. Who do you view as of the biggest offensive threat? Who should Tiger fans keep an eye on as a key playmaker for SC?
GABA: The biggest offensive threat is probably Duane Notice, who actually comes off the bench. His three-point shot has been improving each season and he's had some dynamite moments this year. He's got a good inside-outside game and is able to get to the line a lot as well. Mindaugas Kacinas has been the leading scorer so far but he's capable of disappearing at times. Thornwell is certainly a player Tiger fans should watch but his shooting numbers tend be low despite his playmaking ability.
STS: KenPom is only giving SC a 49% chance to win this game. Early season predictions likely rely heavily on home-court advantage since there is little other data to base predictions on. Nevertheless, that's low for a 9-0 team going to face a 7-3 team who has yet to play a KenPom top 75 opponent. How do you see this one playing out?
GABA: I feel fairly confident South Carolina will get the win on Friday night but Clemson will likely be the toughest opponent USC has faced so far this season. The Tigers struggle to rebound and that may be the Gamecocks' greatest strength. South Carolina is rolling while Clemson will like to put up a fight after a crushing loss to Alabama. I think the game will be close for at least a half, maybe even more than that but I expect Martin's club to pull away in the second half.