Stock Up: South Carolina basketball

Jeff Goodman of The Messenger included South Carolina basketball among his "Stock Up" teams in his weekly "Stock Watch" article.

South Carolina basketball guard Jacobi Wright
South Carolina basketball guard Jacobi Wright / Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports
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South Carolina basketball is in the middle of what appears to be their best season since the 2016-2017 Gamecocks made it all the way to the Final Four. Seemingly in good position to make the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in over 20 seasons (2016-2017, obviously, being the other), USC solidified their chances with a blowout road victory over Arkansas at Bud Walton Arena and a home domination of the 6th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats.

Especially since the Gamecocks drug the 'Cats out of Colonial Life Arena, the national media has been much more interested in Lamont Paris' South Carolina basketball squad.

One example of this was seen on Thursday as Jeff Goodman of The Messenger included South Carolina basketball among his "Stock Up" teams in his weekly "Stock Watch" article.

When identifying what makes this version of the South Carolina Gamecocks a real contender for the NCAA Tournament this season, Goodman (and other national analysts) cited the Gamecocks' strong defense (currently ranked as the best unit in the SEC in points allowed, free throws allowed, free throw makes allowed, and rebounds allowed per contest) and efficient offense (currently ranked in the top-5 of the SEC in 3-pointers made, 3-point percentage, fewest turnovers, assist percentage, and offensive rebounding).

If the 16-3 record (4-2 in the SEC) wasn't enough reason for the Gamecocks' figurative "stock" to be rising, the personnel should be. Coach Lamont Paris has assembled a nice roster in Columbia.

Meechie Johnson and Ta'Lon Cooper are All-SEC candidates in the Carolina backcourt. The duo are two of just 15 players in the conference who have at least 45 assists and under 35 turnovers. Cooper is 2nd in the SEC in assist-to-turnover ratio. The veteran guards are two of just five SEC players who rank so highly in assist-to-turnover ratio while also shooting 37.5% from the perimeter. The team's third guard, junior Jacobi Wright, already has a late-clock game-winner this season and knocked down 4 3-pointers against Kentucky, and freshman Morris Ugusuk profiles as a defensive stopper in the future.

A deep group of forwards has 3-level scoring (BJ Mack), defense and rebounding (Josh Gray), gritty hard workers (Stephen Clark and Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk), and a talented freshman (Collin Murray-Boyles) who seemingly can do a little bit of everything on the basketball court. Gray, Clark, and BBV average almost 9 rebounds collectively in limited minutes, while starters Mack and CMB score 20 points per game on 15 shots while pulling down over 10 rebounds.

The wings are also difference-makers. Myles Stute (who is out with a shoulder injury right now) is a big-time shooter and can guard 2-4 on defense, and Zach Davis is one of the best perimeter stoppers in the SEC. The versatility of the two players doesn't show up in their defensive stats as they each average just 1 stock (steal + block) per game. However, the two players are gifted athletes with wingspans that are almost 7'0," and they make life difficult for opponents.

And then there is Coach Paris, himself.

Known as a developer and "culture coach," Paris has shown himself to be a coach who is capable of dominating Kentucky coach John Calipari on the grease board. As he showed in the upset, his dead-ball plays are becoming very efficient scoring opportunities for his team, and his commitment to strong defense and efficient shot selection (the majority of USC's shots come at the rim or from open 3-pointers) is paying dividends.

It is too early to proclaim that the 2023-2024 South Carolina basketball team is a lock for the NCAA Tournament. However, it is clear to most that the Gamecocks are for real, and March Madness tickets should be a popular buy in Columbia, South Carolina this spring.

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