COLUMBIA - In a year's time, South Carolina has gone from Final Four to finished earlier than expected.
The Gamecocks (17-16) season came to a close Sunday night when the team was not picked for the NIT after an up-and-down season with too many key players to replace from their stunning run to the national semifinals in 2017 and too few big moments this season to qualify them for a second straight NCAA Tournament.
"My guys and our staff gave it everything we had and unfortunately, the Arkansas game was our last opportunity to represent that Gamecock uniform," Martin said Sunday night in a Twitter post.
Martin had said following the loss to the Razorbacks at the Southeastern Conference Tournament the Gamecocks would not play in any non-NCAA postseason event other than the NIT.
Still, Martin focused on the positives and potential of his program after he became the first South Carolina coach since the late Frank McGuire to lead the Gamecocks to four consecutive winning seasons.
McGuire had 14 straight winning seasons from 1967-80.
"That's 4 consecutive winning seasons for the first time in a long long time," Martin's Tweet continued. "We're still building."
It's a project that stalled some after last season.
The surge to the Final Four was led by All-SEC player Sindarius Thornwell and two other seniors in Duane Notice and Justin McKie. Former McDonald's All-American point guard P.J. Dozier, a two-year starter, left school for the NBA while heir apparent at the spot, Rakym Felder, was suspended for the year after his second arrest in less than a year.
The departures continued during the season as Delaware transfer Kory Holden, expected to provide scoring punch to pick up for Thornwell in the backcourt, left the team in February with continuing knee problems.
The result left Martin mixing-and-matching players, many of them new, to find winning combinations. South Carolina had three ranked victories this year over Kentucky, Florida and Auburn. It also had a six-game losing streak (it's longest in six years) over January and February which knocked them off the bubble and out of the NCAAs.
The Gamecocks expect to take a step forward next year with the return of Felder and additional experience from freshmen David Beatty, Justin Minaya and Felipe Haase. South Carolina's plan also includes having one-time Louisville prospect Brian Bowen Jr. eligible at midseason. Bowen joined the Gamecocks in January after being held out by Louisville because of the college basketball corruption case. He has practiced with South Carolina the past two months, but must still be reinstated by the NCAA.
South Carolina's 6-foot-9 junior Chris Silva was named to the all-SEC team and was co-defensive player of the year. If history is any guide, Silva should be more of a handful next season. Martin has excelled at getting seniors to play their best in their final years. Michael Carrera was an all-SEC forward his final year in 2016 while Thornwell was voted SEC player of the year by league coaches in 2017. Silva led South Carolina with 14.3 points and eight rebounds a game this year.
South Carolina lone roster losses weren't around long. Graduate transfers Frank Booker and Wesley Myers, who combined to make 30 starts this season, played their only years with the Gamecocks this season.
Count on the Gamecocks to find a bigger role for Justin Minaya next year. The son of baseball executive, Omar, the 6-5 Justin Minaya started 30 games and became one of South Carolina's best defenders.
South Carolina was part of the FBI's probe into college basketball, both with Martin's former assistant Lamont Evans getting arrested at Oklahoma State and former player Dozier's receiving $6,135 from an agent according to documents reviewed by Yahoo Sports. Martin has strongly denied any wrongdoing and doubled-down on that by adding Bowen. The federal complaint stated that $100,000 was planned to be funneled to a recruit's family to gain his commitment to play for Louisville. Bowen was not named in documents, but details made clear that investigators were referring to the freshman.
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