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The Gamecocks haven't advanced to the NCAA tournament since 2004, but the drought almost ended last season and could end this season. South Carolina's postseason hopes received a major boost this summer when guard Devan Downey and forward Dominique Archie withdrew their names from draft consideration. Without those two, South Carolina would have looked like a .500 team. With both in the lineup, the Gamecocks could go dancing.
Devan Downey lacks ideal size, but he has everything else.
Archie and returning starter Mike Holmes give the Gamecocks plenty of defense and toughness. What they don't offer is a whole lot of height. Holmes ranked fourth in the SEC in offensive rebounds and tied with Archie for 10th in the league in blocks. The problem is that both are only 6 feet 7. In fact, the Gamecocks don't have anyone on their roster taller than 6-9, which might explain why the Gamecocks ranked last in the league in rebound margin a year ago. Sam Muldrow is a returning starter in the frontcourt, though he only averaged 5.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game last season. Evaldas Baniulis went 48-of-100 from 3-point range last season and could fill the outside shooting void left by guard Zam Fredrick's departure.
Downey (5-9/175) might not have the size you want from a Division I player - even at point guard - but he provides everything else. Downey ranked third in the SEC in scoring (19.8) and assists (4.5) and led the league in steals (2.9) last season. His defense helped South Carolina lead the SEC in steals and turnover margin. Downey does need to be more careful with the ball after committing 108 turnovers last season. The Gamecocks need to find a replacement for Fredrick, who ranked second on the team in scoring at 15.5 points per game last season. Fredrick's absence could mean an expanded role for senior Brandis Raley-Ross, the 2008-09 SEC Sixth Man of the Year. Depth at guard will come from freshmen Ramon Galloway and Stephen Spinella.
South Carolina must rebound better and avoid the late-season collapse that knocked the Gamecocks out of NCAA tournament contention last season. If they do those two things, the Gamecocks ought to earn an NCAA bid. This team led the league in turnover margin last season and should be producing a lot more steals with Downey and Archie in the lineup. South Carolina clearly is a rung below Kentucky and Tennessee in the SEC East, but the Gamecocks are talented enough to battle Vanderbilt and Florida for third place in the division.
Preseason rankings were compiled by basketball writers David Fox, Mike Huguenin, Jason King and Steve Megargee.