South Carolina's Undeniable Basketball Progress

By Rixon Lane

As the Gamecocks prepare for the opening round of the SEC Tournament, South Carolina sits at 15-15 on the season. 

Frank Martin's third season with the Gamecocks is drawing to a close and South Carolina is 43-53 during his tenure in Columbia. 

With the Gamecocks on the bubble for a possible NIT bid, how is the state of South Carolina's basketball program?

Entering this year, many Gamecock fans were hoping for a winning season. After a win over 9th-ranked Iowa State in the first contest of 2015 and a 9-3 record in non-conference play, some began to believe that South Carolina could be capable of more. 

However, no one could have foreseen the rash of injuries that South Carolina had to deal with. At one point, Martin was down to nine players, not enough to even hold full-team scrimmages. All three incoming freshmen, Marcus Stroman, Shamiek Sheppard, and TeMarcus Blanton, have all missed time this year with injuries and illness. Even walk-on Austin Constable was lost for the season, giving the Gamecocks one less body to prepare with. The Gamecocks lost Sheppard and Demetrius Henry to suspension, suspensions that have not been lifted for the SEC Tournament. 

And yet, with all the issues and injuries, there was progress.

For the third consecutive season, South Carolina's SEC wins total climbed. After winning two conference games in Darrin Horn's final season, Frank Martin's teams have won four, five, and, now, six SEC games. The Gamecocks had not won six conference games since 2009-10. 

The Gamecocks went 10-6 at home, their best record in Columbia since 2010-11, and won four conference games in the Colonial Life Arena for the second consecutive season. South Carolina had the second-most difficult schedule in the conference and the second-most difficult SEC slate in the league, but still won four games over top-50 teams. Of all the SEC teams, only Kentucky and LSU had more victories over top-50 opponents. 

South Carolina will likely need at least two victories in Nashville to have a shot at the NIT. However, the fact that the Gamecocks have entered the month of March with a chance to continue playing basketball is a sign of one thing and one thing only.