South Carolina Basketball: Gamecocks left out of preseason NCAA Tournament projections

South Carolina basketball was not included in Joe Lunardi's preseason NCAA Tournament bracketology projection.
South Carolina basketball coach Lamont Paris
South Carolina basketball coach Lamont Paris / Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

South Carolina basketball coach Lamont Paris led his team on the country's most impressive turnaround during the 2023-2024 season as the 11-21 Gamecocks (tying a program record for losses) shocked the college basketball world with a 26-8 finish last year (tying a program record for wins).

The Gamecocks lost six players from last year's roster as Ta'Lon Cooper, BJ Mack, and Stephen Clark graduated and Meechie Johnson, Ebrima Dibba, and Josh Gray left in the transfer portal. Paris has replaced those scholarship spots with impact transfers Nick Pringle and Jordan Butler and 4-star high school prospects Cam Scott, Trent Noah, and Okku Federiko. With one scholarship left, USC is expected to add a good transfer portal point guard to the mix, as well.

Even with expectations high in Columbia with six months to go before the season begins, the national media seems to be doubting Coach Paris and his South Carolina basketball squad.

Earlier this week, CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein revealed his "Rothstein 45" rankings, and the Gamecocks were nowhere to be found. Shortly after that, ESPN's bracketologist Joe Lunardi revealed his way-too-early mock NCAA Tournament field, and, once again, there were no Gamecocks in the projection.

Lunardi's exclusion of the Gamecocks is odd. Unless he believes Carolina won't add a point guard (they will), there is no doubt that Paris will put another good product on the floor again this season.

The Gamecocks return their best player in sophomore forward Collin Murray-Boyles and expect him to take a nice jump with a fully healthy, non-mononucleosis-affected fall. They also are bringing in their most talented perimeter player of the Paris era in Columbia in freshman Cam Scott, and they finally have a center who can play big minutes and hold up on both ends of the floor as a strong and athletic big in Nick Pringle.

Losing Ta'Lon Cooper and the offensive versatility of BJ Mack hurts, but if Murray-Boyles starts taking jumpers as expected, and Paris can find a suitable point guard replacement, USC fans can expect their roles in the offense to be filled. Cam Scott's overall production should be similar to Meechie Johnson's from a year ago (perhaps with fewer 25+ point explosions and fewer inefficient duds, as well).

The two transfer bigs should help fill the roles of Mack and Gray, just in a little different way. Nick Pringle should play the Josh Gray role but with Mack minutes, while Jordan Butler should play the BJ Mack role but with Gray minutes. Pringle and Butler also bring more athleticism and functional length to the table than Mack and Gray. Those two newcomers playing alongside Murray-Boyles as the top-3 post players in garnet and black should be more than serviceable.

Paris' brand of tough defense and rebounding and his unique style of disciplined offense make South Carolina a difficult prep for opposing teams, especially in the short windows of an ongoing season. If things go well for them during the 2024-2025 season, the Gamecocks will be in legitimate contention for another NCAA Tournament selection, even if pundits like Rothstein and Lunardi don't see it just yet.

Coach Paris' message for his team, their opponents, and the media will be simple, just as it was last season: "If they like us, they like us. If not, they'll pay the price."

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