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Manning likes USC’s chances for Big Dance

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Sports Talk

The South Carolina Gamecocks will end their 12-year NCAA men’s tournament drought this season.
I got the certain word from the judge earlier this week.
Gamecock radio network color analyst, the Honorable Casey Manning, a state circuit judge, was in town for General Sessions Court.
Judge Manning granted me a court time out and gave his view on the Gamecocks’ postseason hoops hopes.
“I think the SEC has four definites,” said Manning, a 23-year veteran handling USC basketball color commentary. “Kentucky, Texas A&M, South Carolina and Vandy. Florida and LSU are on the bubble. We’re going to the Big Dance, no doubt about it, the question is the seed. We’re in the top 68 teams.
“It has been a terrific season for us and some of our expectations have been realized,” he said. “A 23-6 season is not bad.
“I think we’re projected as a ninth seed,” he said.
Manning noted depending on how the Gamecocks fare for the regular season and do in SEC tournament play, they could enhance their hopes.
“If we win our final two regular-season games and get a couple of wins in the SEC tournament, we could be as high as a sixth, or seventh seed. If we don’t do as well, we might fall to a 12.”
Manning, a basketball letterman at USC from 1971-73 under the legendary Frank McGuire who built a national power in Columbia, calls the current Gamecocks “a scrappy team.”
“We’ve had the type season we needed and the fans are back in the stands,” Manning said. “It shows the hard work over the last few seasons.”
Manning said the work and progress of the stalwart senior trio of Michael Carrera, Mindaugas Kacinas and Laimonas Chatkevicius has made an impact.
“None of those guys had many offers to play college basketball,” Manning said. “Michael works hard and gives 110 percent. He’s had 10 double-doubles this season.”
Carrera is the top scorer, 14.5 points, and rebounder, 7.8 boards.
Kacinas is hitting 9.8 points with 5.3 rebounds, while Chatkevicius is netting 9.4 points to go with 4.5 rebounds.
Manning is also high on Lancaster native and former Bruins’ basketball star Sindarius Thornwell, hitting 12.7 points a game.
“You will never meet a finer kid,” Manning said. “Every father would like to have a son like Sindarius. He’s a great ambassador for Lancaster, the state of South Carolina and the University of South Carolina.”
Manning said Thornwell provides more than points and rebounds, calling him “the heart and soul of the team.”
“Sindarius is like a coach on the floor, the pulse of the team,” Manning said. “Sindarius is the glue who holds this team together. He’s remarkable.”
Manning knows about hoops greatness, noting the 1970-71 Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship team was the best squad he played on during his USC basketball career.
“Much like this team, we had three senior starters in John Roche, Tom Owens and John Ribock,” he said. “We had experience and talent all up and down our lineup.
“This was my sophomore year and we won the ACC tournament crown in Greensboro and went to the East Regional,” Manning said.
The Gamecocks fell to then unbeaten Ivy League champion Penn in the regional semifinal.
Manning said Gamecocks’ coach Frank Martin, like McGuire, is committed to building the USC program into a national power.
“If you look at the men’s program, it’s following a similar pattern coach Dawn Staley’s done with our women’s team,” he said. “Coach Martin has been building and he wants to win a national title.
“He wants to go to the top.”
A key building block is a coveted NCAA tournament bid, which Manning views as an open and shut case on the USC hardwood court.