Frank Martin optimistic about South Carolina -- for this season

By Jeff Goodman | College Basketball Insider
What should we expect from Frank Martin in his first year at South Carolina? (US Presswire)

I have South Carolina pegged down the bottom of the SEC this season -- and there's no shortage of company. The Gamecocks were picked 13th, ahead of only a ravaged Mississippi State team. This Gamecocks team hasn't been given a chance by just about anyone.

Frank Martin isn't buying it.

"I'll be disappointed if we aren't competitive in the SEC," Martin told CBSSports.com earlier in the week.

Then his team went out and barely beat Kentucky Wesleyan a couple of nights ago. Final score: 68-67.

Martin inherited a program that lost two players to other high-major programs: Damontre Harris to Florida and Anthony Gill to Virginia. Malik Cooke, the team's leading scorer from a year ago, is gone. Bruce Ellington is busy catching passes on Steve Spurrier's highly-ranked football team, but Martin still feels as though his team can compete with just about anyone in the league. And honestly, you never know. Who would have figured Martin would have kept Kansas State relevant after Michael Beasley bolted.

Martin didn't have Ellington, LaShay Page (hamstring), talented shooting guard Damien Leonard (broken nose) and freshman Mindaugas Kacinas (ankle) for the game against Kentucky Wesleyan. Carlton Geathers (fractured kneecap) won't be back until January. But Martin likes this group. He says that once they get Ellington back, his guards will be extremely fast. Ellington, Eric Smith and junior Brenton Williams make up that group. He loves freshman forward Michael Carrera, a relentless rebounder and dirty-work guy.

Obviously, Martin has to upgrade the talent in Columbia. But let's just examine what he did at K-State in the post-Beasley Era. The guy averaged 24 wins a season, went to the NCAA tournament in four of his five seasons with the Wildcats and took them to the Elite Eight in 2010. He'd almost certainly still be in Manhattan right now if it weren't for athletic director John Currie.

Sure, now he's in a league with Kentucky and Florida. But that's not truly who he's competing with to get South Carolina relevant again. He did it at K-State in a league with Kansas, Texas and a Baylor program that has established itself as one of the elite in the Big 12 over the last few years. Martin needs to beat the Arkansas, Alabamas, Georgias, Missouris and Tennessees of the SEC.

In just months, Martin has already managed to land elite shooting guard Sindarius Thornwell, a South Carolina native playing at Oak Hill Academy. However, if there's one thing we've learned about Martin, it's that he doesn't necessarily need the McDonald's All-Americans.

I'm not ready to buy that Martin will take South Carolina back to the NCAA tournament this season. Remember, this is a team that won just 10 total games and two in league play last season.

It'll take time, but Martin's Gamecocks could be more dangerous than people realize. Even this year.

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