StLouHoo's Preview:

Ready for an SEC Slugfest

South Carolina Gamecocks

The Top 10 Hoos welcome South Carolina to Charlottesville on the back end of a home-and-away series. Virginia took a 17 point win in Columbia this time last year, but Frank Martin and his scrappy club have their hopes set on revenge.

Game Details:

Date/Time:Sunday, December 22nd, 3:00 pm ET
Location:John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA


What 'They' Say

Vegas:UVA -12, O/U 113, equates to ~62-50 UVA win
Torvik:Ranks South Carolina #109, predicts a 58-48 UVA win, 91% confidence
KenPom:Ranks South Carolina #103, predicts a 63-51 UVA win, 88% confidence


Depth Chart:

PG#52 Jair Bolden, 6'3" 215, JR
22.6 mpg, 9.1 ppg, 1.5 apg, 38.9 3P%
SG#00 A.J. Lawson, 6'6" 178, SO
27.8 mpg, 16.3 ppg, 2.7 apg, 35.6 3P%
SF#24 Keyshawn Bryant, 6'5" 197, SO
21.7 mpg, 8.0 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 47.4 FG%
PF#10 Justin Minaya, 6'6" 215, SO
28.7 mpg, 6.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 36.8 FG%
C#21 Maik Kotsar, 6'11" 270, SR
30.1 mpg, 10.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 50.0 FG%
Key Reserves
G#12 Trae Hannibal, 6'2" 217, FR
10.3 mpg, 2.3 ppg, 1.0 apg, 0.0 3P%
G#5 Jermaine Couisnard, 6'4" 211, FR
21.7 mpg, 8.9 ppg, 2.6 apg, 31.4 3P%
F/C#20 Alanzo Frink, 6'7" 260, SO
15.9 mpg, 7.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 64.7 FG%
C#15 Wildens Leveque, 6'11" 230, FR
12.3 mpg, 2.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 62.5 FG%


The ABC's of South Carolina:

A) AJ Lawson is playing for All-SEC honors. The Canadian sophomore is building off his all-freshman-honors season with a hot start so far. He's leading the team in not just points (16.4 ppg) but also assists (2.7 apg) and steals (1.4 spg). He can score both inside and out (36% on 3's) and as a 6'6" guard is able to use his size as an advantage over most defenders. As South Carolina will run a big lineup (GW transfer Jair Bolden their only smaller starting guard) with the return of forward Keyshawn Bryant from injury, Virginia will have to rotate the trio of Morsell, Woldetensae, and Stattmann in coverage on the star.

B) They're almost as bad from 3 as we are. Almost. The Gamecocks' team 3P% of 28.8% ranks 320th nationally. Bolden will hit his fair share (39% on moderate volume), but that's basically it for the rest of the team. Freshman backup Cousinard hits only 31%, and fellow freshman reserve guard Hannibal has yet to hit a 3 in his college career. Wings Minaya and Bryant are similarly cold so far, both this season and over the course of their careers. And big man Kotsar is a throwback center, no "stretch" to his game. Expect UVA's pack line to really be put to work defending the paint.

C) They lock down the paint. The highlight of this defense is their interior defense. They're holding teams to 43% shooting inside the arc, which is 33rd nationally. They block shots at a 14.9% rate which is 22nd in the country. They're aggressive, which is why they kind of foul a lot (their defensive FTA/FGA ratio is in the highest 10% of D-1), but when they don't get a whistle, they make life hell on both post-up bigs and driving guards. Tony Bennett's got his work cut out for him devising an effective attack strategy for his offense.


Their Season To Date

South Carolina is 7-4 on the year. They have home losses to Boston U and Houston, and were swept in Cancun by solid mid-majors Wichita State and Northern Iowa. Their lone P-5 win was last weekend at Clemson by 13.


Keys to getting the win:

1) Ball security. This USC defense isn't playing at quite the elite level Martin had them a few years ago during their surprise Final Four run, but it is excelling in a couple areas. One to focus on is that they're in the top 20% nationally in turnover generation, both of the live- and dead-ball variety, forcing 16 a game. Clemson coughed it up 21 times, and blame lied both with the guards and the bigs. They're a swarming defense that's going to try and force mistakes, and the Hoos have had a few bad games along the way in this regard. UVA's had double-digit turnovers for six straight games now, which with our low possession count is a worrisome rate, ranking 221st nationally. USC uses those turnovers to feed a fast-break offense, much like the one Stony Brook had some success with, and the best way to shut it down is to protect the ball in the first place.

2) Defend the glass. Part of that fast break offense we talked about in the first bullet is offensive rebounding on the secondary break, both with wings and with bigs. They're a lot like UNC like that. With a trio of big wings in Lawson, Bryant, and Minaya, along with bowling ball power forward Frink off the bench, the Gamecocks have a lot of long athletes who can secure second chance opportunities against a still-organizing defense. Minaya, Frink, Levesque, and Kotsar all have OR%'s at 7.9% or better, so for UVA to perform on the defensive glass at its usually-excellent level (DR% of 77.5%, 16th in D-1), we'll need all five players to be disciplined and active.

3) Be aggressive in the paint. This is a bold suggestion, given South Carolina's defensive proficiency around the rim. But because they're aggressive, they have two weaknesses. First is that they foul a ton; they're in the bottom 10% of the country in defensive free throw rate, and a lot of their reserves struggle with whistles. Second is that all their help-side rotations leave opponents free on the glass to secure offensive rebounds and second chance points. Virginia settling for long balls that don't come off paint touches means the South Carolina defense can body up and secure the glass. But if we attack and force their defense to help, then our shots (whether inside or jumpers off kick-outs) give us some bonus opportunities for offensive boards. I still think the long ball is important in this one, but Virginia must first establish its willingness to play through the paint first and foremost.




These two defenses are perfectly suited to counter each other's poor-shooting offenses. This could absolutely be a first-one-to-50 kind of affair. Seeing an Over/Under north of 110 baffles my mind to some degree, though maybe they know something I don't. Virginia hasn't broken 60 in its last six games and South Carolina's a hard defense to get back on track with.

A healthy Key will make a big difference in this one if he can show greater comfort than he did in his limited minutes against Stony Brook. He'll provide good defense against USC's big wings and he'll be effective on the glass on both ends of the floor. If we can couple a good Key performance with some continued improvement from deep (Kihei and Tomas have both looked better the last couple games), Virginia should be able to win a rock fight. The Hoos will control tempo and be perfectly comfortable in a tight, ugly game.

Hoos Win 56-51