Anytime I'm asked about a coaching search that's in progress, I always make the "It's not just Shaka Smart" point. What I mean by that is in addition to a major-conference program considering the hot mid-major coach du jour, said program is often presented with a surprising candidacy that emerges, one you wouldn't have expected in advance.
At first blush, Martin has made a very unusual move. There were reports that the coach did not always see eye to eye with his boss at Kansas State, athletic director John Currie. Martin and Currie have both denied those reports, but something appears to have hastened Martin's departure from Manhattan at an odd point in his career. After all, Martin was building a strong program in a tough conference in his first head-coaching position. He was by all accounts beloved by his players and by a fan base that was filling the home arena. He was getting his team to the NCAA tournament annually, and winning games there.
Conversely, at South Carolina, Martin faces a tall task. The Gamecocks haven't won an NCAA tournament game since 1973. This is a team that's gone 13-35 in the SEC the past three seasons, and even when things have gone right for South Carolina in recent times, they've somehow gone wrong. In 2009, the Gamecocks were a very respectable 10-6 in conference play, but didn't make the NCAA tournament.
As bad as things have been in Columbia of late, this past season represented something of a new low. The Gamecocks went 2-14 in the SEC, and, if anything, that was a surprisingly good outcome for a team that had the league's No. 11-rated offense and its worst defense. Under Darrin Horn last season, this team did two things well in conference play: It forced opponents to commit turnovers, and it got offensive rebounds. That was it. In every other basketball activity the team was below average -- often far below average.
Lastly, Martin isn't exactly arriving to find the cupboard is full where talent's concerned. Leading scorer Malik Cooke was a senior, and two starters from last year, Damontre Harris and Anthony Gill, have already announced that they intend to transfer out of the program.
It all sounds pretty bleak. So what makes me think South Carolina will show improvement under Martin right from the start? One of the factors is that the program has nowhere to go but up.