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November 13, 2013

Gamecock stock report: Hoops edition

WACO, Texas - Whose stock is up and whose is down two games into South Carolina's basketball season?

Stock rising:
Sindarius Thornwell: He's the first legitimate offensive threat Frank Martin has had. Against Longwood he had 14 points and four rebounds as one of four Gamecocks in double figures, but the real scorer emerged against Baylor. It became obvious down the stretch that when USC needed a basket, Thornwell was the guy. Not Brenton Williams, not Michael Carrera, not anyone, remotely, in the post.

Thornwell, who finished with 20 against No. 25 Baylor and was oh-so-close to tying the game on the last possession and forcing overtime, is a multi-faceted scorer who can drain open jumpers from 10 feet out past the 3-point line, can dribble-drive then stop, change directions and hit a floating fadeaway shot or continue to the lane for the basket and the foul. He's also a good free-throw shooter, hitting 7-of-10 on Tuesday afternoon. He's the real deal, ladies and gentleman, and as his confidence grows, he's more than capable of averaging close to 20 points a game

Ty Johnson: Though his numbers were pedestrian - 8 points, 8 assists - his steadying presence on the floor and his ability to bring the ball up under pressure and run the offense was a major reason USC had an opportunity to spring the road upset.

Had his wide-open layup gone in, we'd be having a whole different conversation right now, but what impressed me about that was Johnson's candor in the media room afterward talking about it. He made no excuses about it and admitted he needed to improve, which I have no doubt he will do. He has a terrific, humble attitude and work ethic this team needs, and he's shown against Longwood (18 points) he can score if he has the opportunity.

Duane Notice: He only played 12 minutes against Baylor and had 2 points and a rebound, but there's something physical and confident about the way he plays that I think is exciting for the future. He's thick and unafraid, and while his ball-handling skills can improve, he's already much farther along than I think most would have anticipated. Against Longwood he had 8 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in 19 minutes, and I think those numbers are what are fairly reasonable to expect from him over this season and the next as he learns and grows. Hopefully he'll be able to play more and more minutes for Martin, who has said he favors likes true point guards on the floor and a three-guard look, and be able to accentuate the games of Thornwell and Johnson

Stock falling:
Lithuania. Not the whole country - which may be the case in reality, because I haven't been paying attention - but two of its native sons: Mindaugas Kacinas and Laimonas Chatkevicius. Both work hard and play hard - mostly - and both will do nice things on the court from time to time. Offensively, however, it seems like against quality teams, the norm is likely a stat sheet like Tuesday's - 2 points and 2 rebounds for each. Kacinas is fearless and the more valuable of the two from an effort standpoint, as his 14 rebounds against Longwood attest. And Chatkevicius is in better shape than last year and able to play more minutes and use his height (6-foot-11). But offensively, wow, there's a long way to go there, and Chat still is tentative underneath with the basketball.

Against Baylor, when the offense basically dried up over the last six-plus minutes, Kacinas was not an option; not big enough to set great screens, not skilled enough to create a shot. Last season, both, at times, were pleasant surprises. On a new-look USC team with size and athleticism, both need to find an aggressiveness and a role that earns them playing time rather than there simply being no other options on the bench until younger players such as Demetrius Henry and Desmond Ringer mature.

Brenton Williams: South Carolina needed Williams' scoring in a big way on Tuesday in Waco, and it didn't get it. Yes, he had 12 points, but he only had 5 in the second half when they needed it. Williams is the lone senior, and his role on this team is to shoot, shoot, shoot and shoot. When he's hot, he can have nights like when he scored 38 points in an SEC game against, which makes it so baffling for games like Tuesday's where he's passing up shot opportunities, taking bad shots and missing wide-open looks that his counterpart, Baylor's Brady Heslip, was knocking down. It's almost as if he doesn't understand that his role is to shoot; Heslip took 10 3-point shots, making five. Williams took five, making two. One more, and the game's a win for USC. While the younger players figure out how their strengths play into Martin's system, Williams needs to be a go-to scoring threat when he's in the game, and he missed a great opportunity to do that Tuesday.

Michael Carrera: Carrera missed his last four shots of the game, not including the miss after the buzzer, and was 1-for-5 from the field. After playing 16 minutes in the first half, he sat much of the second half, playing only seven minutes as he wasn't necessarily in big foul trouble but appeared more to be in Frank Martin's doghouse. Carrera himself would say he didn't have a great game. Challenged to be more of a perimeter scorer this season, Carrera took only one 3-pointer, missing it, after going 2-for-5 against Longwood. Twice Carrera's temper got him tangled-up with Bear defenders, and while Carrera was very good from the line on Tuesday, going 6-for-6, the team missed him when he was on the bench both defensively and from a scoring standpoint. I imagine he'll bounce back quickly, because for this team to play in the postseason this year, which I believe it will, it needs Carrera on the floor providing energy and enthusiasm and not on the bench.

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