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November 8, 2013

USC opens hoops season with Longwood

Longwood (0-0) at South Carolina (0-0)
When: 1 p.m.
Where: Colonial Life Arena
TV: None
Series USC leads 1-0

A first game against a first-year coach means one thing - first things first.

As in, with no real idea what kind of system Longwood head coach Jayson Gee will run in his first season at the helm of the Lancers, the focus of University of South Carolina head coach Frank Martin will be almost solely about getting his charges ready for anything they face when they tip off the 2013-14 season a 1 p.m. Saturday at the Colonial Life Arena.

"That's the difficult part about playing these games early on your schedule," Martin said. "You don't know a lot about, especially when you have turnover of coaches, what will happen about style of play. You kind of have to go by just a coach's background and go out there and do the best you can to prepare your team. It's going to be hard to do any kind of in-stone preparation.

"If you go prepare against a team you know the coach - for instance, we're going to go prepare for some Big 12 schools here pretty soon, I don't need to watch film to understand what they're going to do because the coaches, we all run our systems pretty consistently.

"That's the thing as a first-time head coach, he comes from Gary Waters' stable, so I know they're going to coach a physical style of basketball, they're going to play hard, they're going to compete, that's what those guys do. So it's going to be interesting. We'll watch their returning personnel and try and make sure that the little we do know, we can be well-prepared for."

Martin said the difference between preparing a team loaded with freshmen versus teams heavy with upperclassmen is night and day.

"We're so young that I can't just get game-ready with the team," Martin said. "We have to continue to evolve and focus on us. I also start to teach guys how to mentally prepare themselves for their matchups, for what kind of defensively, what kind of actions are coming. Offensively, how do they guard certain screens so they understand what cuts are probably going to be there for you.

"That's the great part about coaching guys that have been around, when you have upperclassmen, that you can really really help prepare them for that next game. When you have a lot of young kids, you're still trying to teach how to cut, how to screen. You can't go to that next phase. But, we have games on us, so we have to manage that.

"That's the difference between seniors and freshmen. Seniors understand the value of a scouting report, and freshmen don't. It's another learning curve that's coming our way."

Three keys to victory
Establish length - With Duane Notice (6-foot-2) and Sindarius Thornwell (6-5), South Carolina has length at the guard position for the first time in the brief Frank Martin era. Thae range on defense gave USC-Aiken fits in the exhibition opener, forcing the Pacers into uncomfortable possessions and shots. USC again needs to use that length up top to disrupt the Lancers and key turnovers from pressure and transition baskets.

Keep your cool - Michael Carrera plays like his hair is on fire. In the first minutes of the exhibition opener, Carrera was tangled up with an opponent diving for a loose ball, mouthing off and getting separated from his prey by teammates. It's how he plays, but this season Martin wants him to play with his head, body and emotions under control. After not doing so against USC-Aiken in the opening minute of the second half, Martin sat Carrera the entire rest of the game. We'll see if that move paid dividends against Longwood.

Duplicate success - One of the bigger - literally - disappointments was the soft play inside last year from Laimonas Chatkevicius (6-11). His strength, intensity and endurance were liabilities a season ago, but so far this season the sophomore has looked leaner, meaner and in better shape, going for a double-double against USC-Aiken with 10 points and 11 rebounds. If he can keep up his inspired play, he'll add an invaluable scoring threat to an offense with height but inexperience in the paint.

Notes: USC owns a 76-29 (.723) all-time record in season openers, including a perfect 10-0 record in the last 10 seasons The last season-opening loss for the Gamecocks came against the Ohio Valley's Tennessee Tech during the 2000-01 season, as the Golden Eagles edged the Gamecocks, 73-67 The Gamecocks earned an 82-75 overtime victory vs. UW-Milwaukee in the 2012-13 season opener The 2013-14 season marks the 12th for Gamecock basketball competing in Colonial Life Arena. The men's squad won its first-ever game in the venue, a 71-66 win vs. East Tennessee State on Nov. 24, 2002 Sophomore forward Michael Carrera led the Gamecocks and ranked sixth in the SEC in rebounding last season with 7.2 per game. Carrera was the first freshman to lead Carolina in the category since freshman forward Mike Holmes matched redshirt-sophomore forward Dominique Archie for 5.7 rebounds per contest during the 2007-08 campaign. Freshman guard Duane Notice handled point guard duties in South Carolina's exhibition victory vs. USC Aiken last Sunday. The Woodbridge, Ontario, native dished six assists against just one turnover in the contest. He played 19 minutes before missing the final 9:54 of the contest due to cramps Freshmen accounted for 110 of South Carolina's 200 minutes played vs. USC Aiken in exhibition action last weekend South Carolina attempted just six 3s vs. USC Aiken in exhibition play. The fewest attempts by Carolina in a game last season was 11 in the season opener vs. UW-Milwaukee. South Carolina went 0-of-11 from beyond the arc in that contest.

Probable starting lineups:
USC
10 Duane Notice 6-2 Fr. G
0 Sindarius Thornwell 6-5 Fr. G
24 Michael Carrera 6-5 So. F
21 Demetrius Henry 6-9 Fr. F
14 Laimonas Chatkevicius 6-11 Fr. F

Next game: USC travels to No. 25 Baylor for a 3 p.m. ET battle as part of ESPN's Hoops Marathon.

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