Busting Brackets

NCAA Basketball: BYU, Butler, and Ole Miss among 10 biggest surprises of 2023-24 season

Jumpman Classic: North Carolina v Oklahoma
Jumpman Classic: North Carolina v Oklahoma / Grant Halverson/GettyImages
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5. South Carolina Gamecocks

Not many people expected South Carolina to be a force in college basketball this year. Picked to finish last in the 2023-2024 SEC Preseason Poll, Lamont Paris and Co. are off to a surprising 11-1 start.

Although South Carolina’s NCSOS is ranked 296th out of 362 teams, the Gamecocks do have some quality wins including wins over Virginia Tech, Grand Canyon and George Washington. Yes, those wins aren’t necessarily “resume-building” wins, but they are strong enough to put the Gamecocks near the NCAA Tournament picture as SEC play approaches.

Their lone loss of the season, however, came in a 72-67 loss to Clemson on the road, a game in which they were competitive -- even holding an 11-point lead in the second half -- alongside a 26-point outing from Meechie Johnson.

Johnson, the Gamecocks leading scorer, averages 18.3 Pts, 4.2 Rebs, 2.3 Ast and has exceedingly improved his shooting percentages this year -- a major reason for the Gamecocks 11-1 start.

In addition to Johnson, Lamont Paris struck gold in the transfer portal, landing instant-impact transfers such as South Florida/Wofford transfer BJ Mack (14.4 Pts, 5.1 Reb, 1.6 Ast), Vanderbilt transfer Myles Stute (10.2 Pts, 4.2 Reb, 1.3 Ast), and Morehead State/Minnesota transfer Ta’Lon Cooper (10.1 Pts, 4.3 Reb, 4.5 Ast).

This core of players has been the primary reason why the Gamecocks have improved their eFG% from 46.9% to 52.1%, marking them from Sub-300 in the country to near top-100 in the country, according to Team Rankings.

As Jon Rothstein quotes, some teams are “in position to be in position,” and I think that quote accurately sums up what is in store for the next few months for South Carolina.

Similar to Ole Miss, SEC play might get a bit choppy here and there, but given the middling preseason expectations and the rough goings last year, South Carolina has shown tangible strides of progress in year two of the Lamont Paris era -- and a NCAA Tournament bid is not out of the equation.