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Shaking off Exam Rust in the Carolinas

South Carolina Gamecocks

South Carolina, under Frank Martin, is a mere 20 months removed from a Final Four appearance, but have crashed back to earth since then. Still it's a road P5 contest with 10 days of rust accumulation for the Hoos, also having to adjust to life without Kihei Clark. Is this a recipe for an upset?

Game Details:

Date/Time:Wednesday, December 19th, 7:00 pm ET
Location:Colonial Life Arena, Columbia, SC
TV:SEC

 

What 'They' Say

Vegas:
TAPE:Ranks USC #128, predicts a 72-57 UVA win, 91% confidence
KenPom:Ranks USC #107, predicts a 72-62 UVA win, 81% confidence

 

Depth Chart:

Starters
PG#1 T.J. Moss, 6'2" 193, FR
20.6 mpg, 6.3 ppg, 1.9 apg, .333 3P%
SG#00 A.J. Lawson, 6'6" 172, FR
27.9 mpg, 14.3 ppg, 3.6 apg, .304 3P%
SF#24 Keyshawn Bryant, 6'6" 190, FR
18.0 mpg, 8.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg, .441 FG%
PF#30 Chris Silva, 6'9" 234, SR
24.6 mpg, 11.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg, .421 FG%
C#21 Maik Kotsar, 6'11" 264, JR
24.6 mpg, 8.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg, .523 FG%
Key Reserves
PG#4 Tre Campbell, 6'0" 183, SR
21.8 mpg, 5.3 ppg, 1.6 apg, .265 3P%
PG#2 Hassani Gravett, 6'2" 188, SR
26.8 mpg, 9.9 ppg, 1.8 apg, .472 3P%
SF#23 Evan Hinson, 6'4" 230, JR
12.0 mpg, 2.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg, .250 FG%
C#13 Felipe Haase, 6'9" 253, SO
21.2 mpg, 6.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg, .372 FG%

 

The ABC's of South Carolina:

A) Fast offense, grinding defense. To compensate for a struggling defense, South Carolina is trying to use speed to create opportunities, and their offense is the 21st (out of 353) fastest in the country, though it's not leading to much efficiency, shooting only 49% from 2, 32% from 3, and turning the ball over on almost 20% of their possessions. By contrast, this Frank Martin defense still wants to grind things out, forcing teams into a half court game where they can create turnovers (54th nationally) and clog the paint (9th nationally in 2p% defense, 31st in shot blocking), though they've been vulnerable from range (allowing 38.5% from deep, 316th nationally).

B) There's some veteran presence leftover from the Final Four. In March of 2017, this South Carolina program rocketed from a 7-seed to the Final Four, losing by just 4 to Gonzaga in Phoenix. The program has tanked since then, missing the postseason last year and struggling out of the gate this season. Remarkably, there are still three players in the rotation from that run, including the front court duo of Chris Silva and Maik Kotsar which started in that loss to the Zags (reserve PG Gravett also played 12 minutes in that game).

C) Freshmen are getting a lot of rope. What's changed in that interim is the makeup of the backcourt, with every guard from that run promptly leaving Columbia (graduation, transfer, NBA, you name it). Martin fully committed to the youth movement this year, and in their most recent game against Michigan, three true freshmen got the start in the backcourt: Lawson and Moss at guard and Bryant on the wing, with another freshman Alanzo Frink contributing off the bench. What's intriguing is that none of these freshman were even highly regarded, 247sports considered the group only 54th nationally, and Lawson was the only recruit ranked in the top 200 (and he only came in at #147). It speaks either to Martin's ability to find gems, or his desperation for playable depth, that this group is so heavily contributing... probably somewhere in between.

 

Their Season To Date

The Gamecocks are 4-5 on the year, with its best win over KenPom #187 Coastal Carolina. In addition to respectable losses to Providence (neutral) and Michigan (away), South Carolina also has losses to KenPom #169 Stony Brook (home), #81 Wofford (home), and #201 Wyoming (away).

 

Keys to getting the win:

1) Don't be afraid to utilize the paint. Yes, taking and making 3's are going to be an important part of the game plan, especially with as statistically poor as USC is in defending them. The Wolverines hit 42% from deep last week, Wyoming hit 50%, etc. But for the Hoos, rhythm shots come off catch-and-shoot opportunities generated by paint touches, which collapse defenders away from the perimeter, and deny defenders the ability to overplay off-ball screens.

Attacking the paint will be daunting, both in how the Cocks will cut off driving lanes, and in the pair of imposing shotblockers in Kotsar and Silva. But the offensive game plan will need to be creative and aggressive in finding ways to attack the post to score in a balanced manner. Bonus, South Carolina struggles to not foul, putting aggressive teams on the FT line at an unhealthy clip (30 FTAs for UM, 28 for Wyoming, 25 for GW, 34 for Providence).

2) Get off to a fast start. Both teams are coming off long exam breaks (9 days off for the Hoos, 10 for USC) and a big advantage will go to the team that can come out with more energy and less rust. If Virginia can open up an early lead on the Gamecocks and hold off their counterpunch, then the Hoos can take the crowd out of it and put their foot on the gas. But USC is desperate for a confidence-building win; playing respectably close against Michigan last weekend gave them a ray of hope that they'll be looking to build off of with UVA. The first 10 minutes will be the difference between the safe double-digit win the computers are projecting and a tight struggle like we saw vs VCU.

3) Get a step forward from Mamadi, Braxton, and Marco. It's been a bit of a sluggish start for players #6-8 in UVA's rotation. We've seen occasional flashes from each of them, but strong UVA teams have traditionally featured a couple guys off the bench who show very little drop-off, if any, from the starters (think the ability to go to Anderson and Gill in 2014). With ACC play approaching, and Clark out for a bit, now is an important time for these guys to get on track. This goes double for a physical South Carolina team, where their ability to use their athleticism and strength in attacking the paint and defending the blocks will go a long way to making the game plan succeed. If this group can chip in 60 combined minutes and 15+ points between them, I'll feel good about our prospects to leave Columbia with a solid win.

 

 

Predictions:

South Carolina's got a fascinating front court in the veteran Kotsar and preseason all-SEC 1st Teamer Silva. But that backcourt is just too raw to expect it to really excel against Virginia's veteran lineup. Braxton will likely get the start in Clark's absence, sliding in at the 4 and moving Hunter to the 3. Reassuringly, Key has gone head to head with Silva multiple times in their SEC careers and so has a comfort level defending him. Last season, Silva went only 2-8 for 9 points in a loss at Alabama, and in 2016 (Key's freshman year) Silva went a combined 4-11 for 15 points in two losses to the Crimson Tide.

Take a young team that already doesn't shoot well, force them to play a Bennett Pack Line featuring a cast of veterans, and you can guess how this should go. This will come down to the UVA offense managing to get into a good rhythm against a Cocks squad that knows how to deny paint touches, forcing UVA to show what it learned from losses last year facing that same approach. If UVA can get penetration and use that to set up their shooters, they'll cruise. If the offense stalls, this one will be closer than we like. End result is probably somewhere in the middle.

Hoos Win 65-55

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