Better Know An Opponent: South Carolina State

It’s deja vu all over again, as the Gamecocks take on an incredibly weak team from just about an hour away up (or in this case, down) I-26 this Saturday at 1:30pm.  South Carolina State brings their woeful unit to Colonial Life Arena for what will be Carolina’s final regular season out-of-conference tilt, and the last chance to see improvement before they head to Starkville, Mississippi mid-week to face a different set of Bulldogs.

This preview is the same as the PC preview in one respect – this is a game that a good team doesn’t have to worry about winning.  However, as we’ve been noting throughout this season, the Gamecocks don’t constitute a good team.  So, while the Gamecocks will rightly be heavy favorites going into the contest, as the Blue Hose taught us the other evening when they closed the gap to nine, the Gamecocks are capable of making just about anyone look good if they want to, and the challenge on the evening will be to avoid letting that happen.

The Four Factors

Numbers from KenPom.com (national rankings in parenthetical; NCAA average)

The Four Factors USC O SCS D SCS O USC D NCAA
eFG 51.8 (61) 52.5 (297) 42.4 (318) 49.0 (204) 48.3
TO% 25.9 (337) 19.0 (255) 22.0 (228) 19.4 (238) 20.8
OReb% 45.2
(2)
42.6 (345) 34.0 (115) 31.2 (142) 32.2
FTR 41.1 (67) 35.7 (175) 22.6 (344) 40.4 (261) 35.4
Adj. Pace 67.5
(149)
66.7
(193)
67.0

Shooting

Shooting USC SCSU NCAA
FT% 71.7
(107)
64.2
(290)
68.8
2P% 50.9
(64)
39.0
(342)
47.3
3P% 35.8
(79)
34.0
(147)
33.4
3PA/FGA 31.9
(206)
28.7
(269)
33.0

State is woeful on both sides of the ball, and so the real mis-match comes from the side of the court where the Gamecocks are relatively strong (offense) as opposed to on the defensive end of the floor.

One interesting thing about State is that even though they’re not a good team by any stretch, they avoid the high variance strategies we talked about when we previewed Presbyterian.  As a bad team, you’d think they’d want to slow down the pace to limit possessions and to take as many three-point shots as possible, again hoping to come out ahead of the variance lottery.  Instead, SC State isn’t particularly slow, and shoots a pretty low number of 3PAs (28.7% of shots from the field, as compared to the NCAA average of 33%).

The Bulldogs don’t do much of anything right on the offensive end, with their “strength” being a slightly above-average ability to grab rebounds.  Unfortunately for State, that’s the one defensive area the Gamecocks aren’t half bad at, so it may end up being a wash.  And if that’s a wash for State, then they’re in trouble on the evening.

Otherwise, not much goes right.  Their shooting from 3PA actually isn’t all that bad, but they don’t get many looks from out there, so it doesn’t help all that much.  Much like PC, they never get to the free throw line, though unlike PC they also don’t shoot FTs particularly well, so it’s less damaging to them that they never find the charity stripe.  Only half of their turnovers come from opponents’ steals, so there’s a decent chance the Gamecocks will get some turnovers absent their own efforts.

It’s surprising that State avoids the 3PA, because they only hit 2s at a 39% rate.  This is another opportunity for the Gamecocks defense to find a way to improve in defending the 2PA.  No defense worth its salt wants to give up a high rate close to the basket, because if teams can go get two against you easily you’re going to struggle defensively.  The Gamecocks do a decent job at not giving away too many 3PAs, but that only pays off if the other team is forced to take contested 2PAs as well.

It’s on the offensive end where Carolina should end up controlling the game.  The Gamecocks continue to shoot well from wherever they shoot from, and the focus for this team will remain making sure they get enough of those shots to make it pay off.  Last game, South Carolina did an excellent job of limiting turnovers, only committing them on 13% of possessions.  Another effort like that from Carolina would be a wonderful step forward as the team heads into conference play.  The Bulldogs are conceding offensive rebounds at a rate almost where Carolina grabs them, so it could be a brutal night for State on that end.  That only raises the need for the Gamecocks to avoid turnovers, because so many plays that end in shots will result in extended possessions that have two or more opportunities to put points on the board.

State also concedes a lot of 3PAs (opponents shoot 37% of FGs from there) and a lot of assisted baskets against their zone, and so the Gamecocks will need to continue to show the type of game they put together against PC on offense (where every player registered at least one assist).

Personnel

Name
Min%
%Poss
OR%
DR%
Asst%
TO%
FT
2P
3P
Khalif Toombs
92.0
21.0
0.4
9.9
27.3
21.7
36-52 (69%)
27-85 (32%)
22-54 (41%)
Adama “Louie” Adams
82.9
20.9
1.5
5.7
22.1
23.6
25-36 (69%)
40-93 (43%)
16-36 (44%)
Matthew Hezekiah
76.6
19.0
13.7
14.9
6.8
10.1
14-22 (64%)
74-133 (56%)
0-1 (0%)
Patrick Myers
66.3
17.8
6.7
8.5
9.2
22.1
11-15 (73%)
22-63 (35%)
8-35 (23%)
Darryl Palmer
57.3
20.5
8.8
15.1
7.1
21.3
13-23 (57%)
25-63 (40%)
10-31 (32%)
Shaquille Mitchell
55.6
23.3
9.0
11.6
8.7
22.8
15-29 (52%)
24-70 (34%)
9-29 (31%)
Luka Radovic
44.0
13.6
6.9
13.3
2.6
28.5
8-10 (80%)
17-35 (49%)
2-8 (25%)
Chasen Campbell
15.0
26.5
6.7
11.5
2.9
28.5
4-4 (100%)
4-13 (31%)
8-20 (40%)

State is incredibly reliant on its starting five, as non-starters only play 23% of their minutes.  However, unlike PC, this doesn’t show up in an ability to avoid getting into foul trouble, and so the Gamecocks may be able to force the Bulldogs out of their normal rotation by drawing foul trouble early on.  This goes especially for Khalif Toombs, who is notable for playing the second-highest percentage of his team’s minutes of any player in the NCAA.  I’d expect to see him on the court for 35 minutes or more.  He’s struggled a lot lately against better competition, shooting under 30% on 2PAs in every game since December 3rd against Norfolk State, and he’ll have to be good for State to have a chance.  That said, his game is doling the ball out (he assists on 27% of his teammates’ baskets while playing), so he’ll remain important.

State sticks primarily to a 7-man rotation, though they’ve been trying to mix in Chasen Campbell more and more as the season has gone on.  More than most teams we play, they spread the ball evenly among their players, with no one aside from Campbell utilizing over 24% of possessions.  They also spread out the players who shoot 3PAs, even though they don’t shoot a particularly high amount from there.

The Gamecocks will need to keep an eye out for Darryl Palmer and Matthew Hezekiah when they have the ball, as both block over 5% of opponent’s 2PAs when they’re on the court.

Otherwise, State’s an interesting team in that they’re relatively uninteresting.  None of their players particularly stand out from others in any particular way.  I don’t see any particular matchup here that the Gamecocks shouldn’t be able to handle.

Name
Min%
%Poss
OR%
DR%
Asst%
TO%
FT
2P
3P
Lakeem Jackson
78.6
17.7
11.2
17.4
15.1
27.7
7-23 (30%)
55-88 (63%)
0-1 (0%)
Eric Smith
65.3
18.7
1.6
7.0
27.1
33.6
17-25 (68%)
17-46 (37%)
6-24 (25%)
Mindaugas Kacinas
63.5
17.0
12.6
12.5
7.6
29.0
22-32 (69%)
34-50 (68%)
3-12 (25%)
Brenton Williams
59.6
20.5
1.7
7.2
12.7
19.7
36-44 (82%)
27-44 (61%)
22-46 (48%)
Brian Richardson
51.2
18.6
4.5
10.8
14.4
20.2
17-20 (85%)
13-33 (39%)
19-44 (43%)
LaShay Page*
44.9
23.4
2.3
13.9
7.6
16.0
27-31 (87%)
18-48 (38%)
14-45 (31%)
RJ Slawson
42.0
18.4
16.6
12.5
9.0
23.4
19-29 (66%)
17-40 (43%)
1-5 (20%)
Michael Carrera*
32.2
27.8
17.6
26.8
8.3
24.2
29-37 (78%)
24-52 (46%)
2-2 (100%)
Damien Leonard
23.5
19.1
3.3
11.2
8.4
35.0
5-7 (71%)
6-11 (55%)
6-20 (30%)
Bruce Ellington*
22.0
22.2
2.3
10.9
7.3
27.1
11-17 (65%)
11-24 (46%)
2-9 (22%)
Laimonas Chatkevicius
12.9
24.1
16.1
14.9
19.8
38.9
2-6 (33%)
8-14 (57%)
1-1 (100%)

South Carolina goes into this game short-handed with Ellington, Carrera, and Page all out.  While Martin will normally rotate 10-11 players in the course of one game, and while that’s normally somewhat necessary given South Carolina’s foul rate, they’ll have to figure out another way to get by on this evening with only eight healthy scholarship players.  Fortunately for the Gamecocks, the Bulldogs don’t draw fouls particularly effectively, and so hopefully that will continue and the Gamecocks won’t end up with an even shorter rotation.

Williams continues to be the story of the season, with an eFG up to 66.7%, which would be 18th in the NCAA for players who play at least 24 minutes a game (Brenton averages just below that qualifying number).  He doesn’t do anything else on the offensive end amazingly well (you wish he could distribute more than he does with his 12% assist rate) but if you shoot as well as he does and avoid turnovers at all, you’re fine.

Speaking of avoiding turnovers, Chatkevicius will have to do better than he’s done  this season.  While the team showed marked improvement at lowering its TO% by posting a 13% rate against PC last outing, three of those came from Laimonas, and now 39% of the possessions he ends are turnovers.  He brings a lot to the team in that he can take the mid-range shot and does a good job rebounding on both ends, but improving in taking care of the ball is non-negotiable.

Another guy who continues to improve and should see a lot of minutes on the evening (and going forward) is Brian Richardson, who got his first start of the season against PC and has played very well in three of the last four games on the offensive end.  Against Manhattan, his shots didn’t fall quite like he’d want them to, but he got to the line and made some big free throws to help the team find a way to victory.  Versus the Blue Hose, he played 34 minutes and was over 50% on 2s (2-3), 3s (3-5), and FTAs (3-4).  If he and Brenton can continue to shoot this well, it augurs well for the team, though I worry about how well they can play together as spot-up shooters.  To let them really succeed, the rest of the team (and especially Smith, who does a fine job of it) needs to get them the ball in scoring positions.

Predictions

KenPom: 80-60 W (96%)

TeamRankings: 77-61 W (95%)

This should be an interesting game in that it’s one of the only times this season I’d imagine (unless Page is ineligible and Carrera can’t get back from injury) that you’ll see both the Gamecocks and its opponent go short on the bench.  That said, the eight players that Carolina runs out there should be superior to the ones that make the trip up from Orangeburg.  State brings up a team that really can’t score effectively means its yet another opportunity for the Gamecocks to shut a team down defensively, with the hopes that they can see some success that will carry them forward into SEC play.

I’ve laid off the defense most of this preview, but was surprised that at Martin’s press conference in the lead-up to this game that coach thinks the team is doing alright on defense.  There’s just nothing I’ve seen that bears that out, at least not over the course of 40 minutes.  Yes, the team has had some good spurts, but unless they can have either longer good spurts, more good spurts, or fewer or less-frequent bad spurts, then it’s something that will continue to imperil any chance of making a decent show of things in conference games.

It seems likely the Gamecocks will grab one more win to close up non-conference play at 10-3.  That gives them a decent chance to see a postseason tournament (given the plethora of them available), which again is probably as good a result as we could’ve hoped for coming into the season.  Enjoy the game!

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About marvinnedick

Blogging from the mid-Atlantic on Gamecock sports, as well as general musings on sports theory otherwise.
This entry was posted in 2012-13 Basketball, Better Know An Opponent, SCSU and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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