There are 15 teams in the SEC — and South Carolina was projected to finish last in the preseason poll after going 4-14 in the league last season and losing leading scorer GG Jackson to the 2023 NBA Draft. Credit to second-year coach Lamont Paris for never believing this was a sensible projection and always feeling confident enough to express as much on the record shortly after the preseason poll was published.
“I take it personal — and take it personal for a lot of reasons,” Paris reportedly told TheBigSpur.com back in October. “Ultimately it says we don’t think that coach is very good or we don’t think those players are very good. There’s no denying that. You think the coaching or the players are not very good. That’s OK. You’re also not there every day, and I’m there every day. So I take that personally.”
Fast-forward to the present, and it’s undeniable that the Gamecocks are exceeding all expectations. They improved to 20-3 overall, 8-2 in the SEC on Tuesday with a 68-65 win over Ole Miss. They remain No. 13 in Wednesday morning’s updated CBS Sports Top 25 And 1 daily college basketball rankings and are clearly the biggest surprise among the sport’s power-conference teams.
“It’s going to be one of the most exciting times of these guys’ college careers,” Paris said Tuesday, “if on Selection Sunday they call our name and we get to go somewhere and play [in the NCAA Tournament].”
Things certainly seem headed that direction thanks in part to Paris’ work in — what else? — the transfer portal. Four of South Carolina’s top five scorers are first-year players in the program, three of whom are transfers who played Division I basketball elsewhere last season. It’s the latest example that illustrates coaches asking for patience and time in this era are mostly making excuses. Because of NIL and transfer waivers, it’s always possible to build a quality team in one offseason. Kansas State’s Jerome Tang did it in advance of last season, took over a program picked to finish at the bottom of the Big 12 but advanced all the way to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament thanks to the presence of star transfers Markquis Nowell and Keyontae Johnson. Now it appears Paris has done something similar, and his prize should be a trip to the Big Dance and, possibly, an SEC Coach of the Year award, if not more.
Wednesday’s Top 25 And 1 rankings