South Carolina Basketball: KenPom and AP poll ranking reveal

South Carolina Basketball Coach Lamont Paris Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports
South Carolina Basketball Coach Lamont Paris Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports /

South Carolina basketball got their latest preseason KenPom ranking on Sunday, which is one of the most well-known and reliable basketball ranking metrics. In the rankings, the Gamecocks were ranked at 66th out of 362 D-1 teams. While that might not seem like the ranking of a tournament contender, the Gamecocks were ranked 221st in that same ranking to end last year. To put it into further perspective, the Gamecocks have not even finished the year in the top 66 of those rankings since the 2017 Final Four run under Frank Martin.

This is tangible proof that Lamont Paris is progressing the South Carolina program from the depths at which he was given it. The Gamecocks are ranked above programs such as Oklahoma State, Florida State, Penn State, Wake Forest, and Ole Miss, to name a few. While preseason rankings are always going to need to be taken with a few grains of salt, KenPom’s history as a predictive metric spells good things for the Gamecocks, and the roster is one of the most improved in the country, according to KenPom.

The first AP poll of the season was released a day later, on Monday. The Gamecocks were understandably not included, but they haven’t been since February 2017, and out of the entire 21st century, the Gamecocks have only been ranked in 3 of 22 seasons.

The Gamecocks have 12 known non-conference opponents, while they also are guaranteed a second game in the Arizona Tip-Off but won’t know their opponent until after their game. South Carolina’s opponents range from 349th in the KenPom preseason rankings (VMI) to 51st (Clemson). None of the Gamecocks’ non-conference opponents were ranked in the first AP poll.

The top-rated opponent that the Gamecocks will get to play at Colonial Life Arena in the non-conference portion of the schedule is 161st-ranked Winthrop, so there’s a good chance that South Carolina basketball doesn’t lose a home game before SEC games start.

South Carolina plays Clemson and East Carolina on the road in back-to-back games in December, while the Gamecocks will also face off against Virginia Tech, Depaul, and either San Francisco or Grand Canyon at neutral sites. All 6 of those teams are ranked above Winthrop in the KenPom rankings, so they will present more of a challenge for the Gamecocks.

Once conference games start, however, the schedule gets much more difficult for South Carolina, as the SEC has presented itself as one of the deepest leagues in the country. 5 SEC opponents are ranked in the AP poll, and 4 more received votes but were not ranked. 9 of South Carolina’s SEC opponents are ranked above Clemson in the KenPom rankings, and Auburn, Arkansas, Alabama, and Tennessee are all ranked in the top 15.

The SEC slate is simply a different beast than the non-conference opponents the Gamecocks will be playing, but South Carolina will have plenty of time to prepare: their first SEC game isn’t until January 6th. Additionally, South Carolina is actually ranked above both Vanderbilt and Mississippi to start the year.

The KenPom preseason rankings also display each team’s adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency, which is a basic rating of how each team performs on each side of the ball with adjustments according to strength of schedule. South Carolina’s adjusted offensive efficiency rating sits at 81st out of 362 teams, but their adjusted defensive efficiency rating is a bit higher at 56th. That number places the Gamecocks ahead of 34 of last year’s NCAA tournament participants in that category, exactly 50% of last season’s field.

For those expecting better results from this year’s South Carolina basketball team, the KenPom ranking certainly served to point towards sunnier skies above Colonial Life Arena. For those expecting an NCAA tournament bid this spring, these rankings don’t necessarily point towards that being a likelihood, but it’s still a sign of better times to come. For now, it appears the South Carolina basketball program has passed its lowest point and is on the come-up.

It’s always important to stress patience with the South Carolina basketball program, at least on the men’s side, since South Carolina isn’t the most envious of jobs in the Power 6. At the same time, it’s refreshing to see national media members and predictive metrics express even a little bit of confidence in the Gamecocks’ ability to compete. But championships, Final Fours, or even NIT bids aren’t won in the preseason. The Gamecocks’ first game against USC Upstate on Nov. 6 will be telling to see where Carolina is at as a team.

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