The Gamecocks return to Columbia on Saturday to take on a very beatable Vanderbilt squad at 1:30pm. The Commodores come into the Colonial Life Arena at 0-3 in the SEC, after two heartbreaking losses at home to Ole Miss on Wednesday evening in OT and to Kentucky the Wednesday prior by two.
Sandwiched in between those games was a pasting out in Fayetteville, where the Hogs held Vandy to 0.51 points per possession in a 56-33 rout, where Vanderbilt only had 23 points with 10 minutes to go in the 2nd half. I’m going to go ahead and get this out of the way right now: if we can hold Vanderbilt to 33 points, I think we have an excellent chance of winning.
From KenPom.com (national rank in parenthetical)
|Four Factors||USC O||Vandy D||Vandy O||USC D||NCAA|
|Shooting||USC O||Vandy D||Vandy O||USC D||NCAA|
This game is yet another instance that shows just how unique South Carolina is among the weaker teams in the SEC – while nearly all others (Miss. St., Auburn, Georgia, Vanderbilt) are decent defensive teams that simply can’t score, the Gamecocks are a decent offensive team that simply can’t play defense. So it’s another evening where there’ll be a decent basketball game played when the Gamecocks are in possession, and where a movable object will go against a resistible force on the other end of the court.
Vanderbilt’s defensive numbers don’t look very impressive until you look at who they’ve come against. While we were beating up on (or, at least frequently beating) low-major teams all last semester, the Commodores overscheduled for the team they were bringing back, and come into this game saddled with losses to Oregon, Davidson, Villanova, Middle Tennessee St. (much better than you think), and Butler. So the raw numbers above should be heavily adjusted in each direction to account for the discrepancy in opposition.
That said, Vanderbilt hasn’t shown any particular adeptness at dominating in one area or another, so this game is more likely to come down to Carolina’s strengths and weaknesses. The story remains the same – if the Gamecocks can continue to out-rebound on the offensive end, and avoid turnovers, they should be in excellent shape. Or, they could flip the script as they did in their most recent win against LSU.
One area where Vanderbilt has been fortunate rather than good is on 3PAs. As we’ve covered here before, your 3PA defense comes from your ability to prevent those shots, not from your ability to prevent those attempted shots from going in. Right now, Vanderbilt’s opponents have only made 29.7% of their 3PAs, which is 35th worst in the country (or best, if you look at it from Vanderbilt’s perspective).
Meanwhile, a lot of the ‘Dores focus on defense is allowing those 3PAs while preventing teams from penetrating into the lane (as you can see above, they allow teams to take almost 36% of their shots from 3PA, which is well-above the national average). So some of Vanderbilt’s good defense is based on a factor completely out of their control.
While the Gamecocks have eschewed the three-point attempt a good bit this year (though some of that is attributable to the number of 2PAs we’ve taken on second-chances, which comes from our offensive rebounding), this is a game where getting Brian Richardson and Brenton Williams warmed up from outside should pay dividends. On the other hand, even if those guys go cold, when teams get 2PAs off against Vanderbilt they’ve been pretty adept at making them. All in all, this is a game where the Gamecocks have opportunities to find some success on offense.
On the other end of the floor, Vanderbilt has struggled in almost every area. Their biggest weapon offensively is the 3PA – they work hard to take the shot (over 43% of their shots from the field are 3s) and they make them at a reasonable clip. The Gamecocks, on the other hand, have done a good job on the season preventing 3PAs. The game may well be decided on how well the Gamecocks do in taking Vanderbilt out of their offense and forcing them to try to score from the inside.
**Will not play
Vanderbilt is a young team, without a senior to its name. They heavily rely on Johnson, Fuller and Odom to get their offense and play most of their minutes. Johnson takes a ton of shots for the ‘Dores and half of those he takes come from 3PA. He hits at a reasonable efficient rate, and also finds a way to help his teammates score through his high assist rate. Fuller and Odom take most of the remaining shots, but are not nearly as adept at scoring as Johnson, posting eFG% in the low 40s.
Vanderbilt is surprisingly average to below-average in rebounding, given their superior height. Much like the games against LSU and Auburn, Carolina will be facing a much taller team when it takes the court on Saturday. While Vanderbilt doesn’t run out a uniquely tall player like Del Piero from LSU, they play no players shorter than 6′, so much of their effective height comes from their guards, as opposed to tall trees in the paint. It’ll be interesting to see how – if at all – this impacts the three guards who got big minutes from us last game, Brenton (5’11″), Bruce (5’9″), and Eric Smith (5’11″).
On the Gamecocks end, I wanted to highlight just how well Lakeem Jackson is playing this year. His eFG of 62.2% is in the top 50 in the nation, and comes exclusively from his ability to take and make shots in the paint, a very impressive way to post such a high number. He’s also done great work for us rebounding on both ends of the court. While I’d love to see him do a better job of avoiding turnovers, he’s answered the challenge that Martin set out for him at the start of this year.
KenPom: W 62-61 (55%)
TeamRankings: 71-65 (72%)
It seems likely that the Gamecocks will face yet another coin flip game in the SEC, as they continue to move through their softer portion of the schedule (though the SEC has a lot of soft parts this season). It seems safe to say that the game will likely be determined behind the arc, unless the Gamecocks find a way to over- or under-perform in both turnover rate and offensive rebounding. Of course, this game could go haywire like the LSU game and go completely against form, but I’ll predict the Gamecocks do just enough defensively to limit Vanderbilt from behind the arc, and do just enough shooting themselves now that Brenton has re-entered the rotation, to walk away with a close, hard-fought victory that gets them to .500 in conference play.