South Carolina's main goal: Qualify for the NCAA Tournament

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina guard Sindarius Thornwell's prime goal this season is qualifying for the NCAA Tournament - and he's not giving up on it because most of the guys he played with last year are gone.

''I think that we still have the potential to make the tournament,'' Thornwell said.

Thornwell and the Gamecocks thought they had done enough a year ago to get there with a 15-0 start, going 11-7 in Southeastern Conference games and finishing the regular-season 24-9.

But on selection Sunday South Carolina was remembered more for the text it initially - and mistakenly - received from the NCAA saying it was in instead of breaking 12-year tournament drought.

''We were older last year. We had been together last year for three years,'' said Thornwell, South Carolina's top returning scorer at 13.4 points a game. ''I was kind of easier for us last year.''

That team featured all-SEC first-team selection Michael Carrera, plus front court seniors in Mindaugas Kacinas and Laimonas Chatkevicius, all three who were seniors. Thornwell was picked for the league all-defensive team and Duane Notice was picked as the SEC sixth man of the year.

Now, Notice joins Thornwell as the leaders of a team with only two other players in P.J. Dozier and Chris Silva with significant experience.

''This year, us older guys have to work harder and the team is going to move a little different and play a little different with the younger guys and us older guys being all guards,'' Thornwell said. ''I think we still have the same type of potential, it's just that the game will be played a little different.''

Different is good, fifth-year coach Frank Martin said. The returners are players who've learned Martin's approach and can share it with newcomers.

''There's a confidence level about the older guys that I like a lot, but there's also a realistic approach to what they do every day,'' Martin said. ''They stay humble and they stay committed to the work. They keep the young guys on edge.''

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Some other things to watch for at South Carolina this season:

DOZIER'S RISE: Martin said sophomore point guard PJ Dozier was worn down as a freshman (he started 28 games) and needed a break from basketball last spring. Dozier has come back stronger and better prepared and Martin said he's poised to take a big step forward with the Gamecocks. The McDonald's All-American averaged 6.7. points, 3 rebounds and 2.1 assists last season.

FRONT COURT CONCERNS: With the loss of four front-court players 6-foot-7 or taller, South Carolina will be in need of some gang rebounding. Martin has liked the play of Chris Silva, a 6-9 forward who he said was rebounding in practice as well as anyone he's coached. Four of the five tallest Gamecocks are first-year playes.

MARTIN'S STAY: South Carolina took away concerns of Martin looking elsewhere with a four-year contract extension that ties him to the school through 2021-22 season. Martin has gone from 28-38 his first two seasons to 42-25 the past two years.

ROSTER PROBLEMS: Martin has not had the easiest time retaining players during his stay. Just before the Gamecocks' NIT opener last March, five players were suspended and three were arrested. Four expected returnees (Marcus Stroman, Jamall Gregory, Eric Cobb and Raymond Doby) left the program leaving Martin relying on untested first-year players this season.

NEW FLOOR: The Gamecocks will play on a new floor at Colonial Life Arena, one designed to be shock absorbent. The flooring features power shock pads that should give players more cushioning when playing or working out. The surface replaces the one that was put in nearly a decade ago.

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Online:

More AP College Basketball: www.collegebasketball.ap.org

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