The Gamecocks have a quick turnaround (well, it seems much quicker to those of us who had the day off of work today) from their disappointing loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday, as they hit the road to visit SEC-newcomer Missouri. The Tigers are coming off their own disappointment, an 83-52 thrashing at the hands of the Florida Gators in Gainesville on Saturday.
But make no mistake, that’s a mark of just how good a Florida team Billy Donovan has this season – the Tigers have wins over Stanford, VCU, Illinois, Bucknell, and Alabama on the season, and their only losses have come away from the confines of their Columbia – away to UCLA (in OT), Mississippi, the aforementioned Florida loss, and a neutral site game to Louisville. At 10-0 in Mizzou Arena, it would take an NCAA investigation into coach Frank Haith along with injuries to three key players to give Carolina a shot. Lucky for us…
Team (courtesy of the subscription-worthy KenPom.com)
|Four Factors||USC O||MIZ D||MIZ O||USC D||NCAA|
|Shooting||USC O||MIZ D||MIZ O||USC D||NCAA|
There’ll be a number of interesting match-ups of strength v. strength and weakness v. weakness on each end of the floor Tuesday evening. Offensively, the Gamecocks have begun to take far better care of the ball over the course of the last few games. It’s not enough to be a trend yet, but three of their last six games have been under 13 percent, with a fourth at 19 percent. Of course, the other two games were 24 and 35 percent… but, Missouri doesn’t seem a team well-placed to punish us for that flaw, which could give Carolina more opportunities to score offensively.
That of course depends on the Gamecocks continuing their fine form of offensive rebounding, which deserted them against Vanderbilt as they posted their second-lowest offensive rebounding percentage of the season. As we’ve noted here before, turnovers and offensive rebounds can wash by and large, though you’d rather give up the boards since you’ll still have a chance to score on the possession, whereas you never score on possessions where you turn the ball over. That said, this seems a false choice, and the Gamecocks will need to try to find their way back to grabbing offensive rebounds against a Missouri team that’s quite sound in preventing them.
The real struggle for the Gamecocks will come from not creating extra shots and eliminating lost possessions, but from finding ways to score when they do possess the ball. The Tigers do an excellent job of guarding the 2PA, and as we learned against Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks can struggle scoring inside against good teams. More worryingly, Missouri also doesn’t give away the FTAs that Carolina has relied on throughout the year in getting points (the Gamecocks rank 87th in the nation by scoring 22.1% of their points from the line). If the Gamecocks can’t find a way to make one of these statistics turn on its head, then we could be in for another long night of a low shooting percentage and point total.
On the other end, the Gamecocks have shown marked improvement over the course of the last four games in creating turnovers, and have vaulted into the lead in the SEC standings (when only considering SEC games) by forcing turnovers on 26.9% of opponents’ possessions in conference play. This would be a fine trick to turn against an excellent Missouri offense that’s not particularly prone to turning the ball over, but who may struggle more than usual in certain areas, given the injury issues highlighted above.
Missouri does an excellent job of scoring the basketball overall, but they really make their money the same way the Gamecocks do – creating extra shots through offensive rebounds. This is a cause for concern on the evening, though my biggest worry comes from the 2PA shooting numbers on each side – Missouri does a great job of scoring inside, and the Gamecocks struggle to defend on the interior. If the Tigers are able to get good, frequent looks in the paint, it’ll be a long night for Carolina. Given the height advantage Missouri holds (the effective height of their team is +3.2″, 16th in the country, as compared to Carolina’s -2.0, which checks in at 291st).
One place the Gamecocks normally give up easy points comes not just from 2PAs, but also from FTAs. Missouri doesn’t normally find ways to get their points from the line, which is surprising given that they get so many offensive rebounds (Coach Martin has said before one of the reasons they love hammering the offensive glass is that it also gives them opportunities to get to the line and get more easy points). It’ll be interesting to see which teams trend holds tomorrow evening.
*Highly unlikely to play
Missouri’s star player is Phil Pressey, who will play almost the entire game on Tuesday so long as the game remains close. His assist rate is the 25th best in the nation, and between that and his shot percentage of 22.4%, that means exactly 60 percent of the possessions he plays (which amounts to nearly all of Mizzou’s) end with either a Phil Pressey shot or a Phil Pressey pass. When you factor in the number of shots Missouri gets off offensive rebounds, that means just about all of their offensive sets go through Pressey.
The Gamecocks would be well-served to continue forcing turnovers if at all possible, which is an area where Pressey is a bit weaker than some other guards (but given the number of possessions that end with assists that don’t count in the denominator of his turnover rate, this isn’t as cut-and-dry as it looks). Pressey will also be a handful on the defensive end, posting a 3.0% steal rate on that side of the court.
The other big story for Missouri on the evening is, aside from the Heath allegations, the fact that Laurence Bowers is not expected to play, and that Earnest Ross and Keion Bell may also miss the game tonight with injuries. Aside from Pressey, these three players account for a significant number of both Missouri’s minutes and possessions used (they rank second, third, and fourth on the team in possessions used), so they all represent significant losses if they can’t run.
That leaves 6’9″ senior Alex Oriakhi with more work to shoulder, and he’s a man who can do so, especially against the defensively-challenged Gamecock front-court. Oriakhi does it all – he scores the ball efficiently, he grabs rebounds voraciously at both ends, and he blocks shots (blocking 6.3% of 2PAs taken by opponents during his playing time). He also does an excellent job of drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line, where he shoots a very strong (for a big man) 70 percent. If Pressey is Job One on the evening, Oriakhi isn’t far behind.
As for the rest of the Tigers’ front-court, Tony Criswell typically starts opposite Oriakhi and brings a similar game, though he’s slightly less adept at rebounding and shooting, and a much weaker player when it comes to blocking shots or getting to the line. Negus Webster-Chan plays significant minutes for a freshman, though he doesn’t add much to the roster – he seldom shoots, does a poor job of shooting when he’s out there, and doesn’t add much from a rebounding perspective. If his minutes increase this evening on account of injuries, he’s one of the guys that Carolina could potentially exploit.
If you want more on Missouri, check out the outstanding RockMNation, who hasn’t posted a preview as of early Tuesday morning, but will do so I’m sure shortly, and will likely do a great job of it. You can also watch Frank Haith preview the Gamecocks here.
On our end, Saturday’s game saw another game where Brenton Williams gave us the most offensively, which is something we may need to continue to get from him, especially against better defensive teams such as Missouri. However (and it’s been tough to figure out where Martin’s going with rotations from game to game), Brenton does seem to have re-emerged as our primary wing player, taking those minutes from Damien Leonard, who’s only played eight minutes combined in our last two games.
Another guy who will be important this evening is Michael Carrera, who has struggled to defend effectively without picking up fouls. However, Carrera has had great games shooting inside and does good work generally getting to the line (he’s fouled almost seven times per 40 minutes he plays), so against a depleted Missouri team, it may be worth getting him chances to work inside and try to put their already stretched line-up under more pressure through fouls.
While we’ve noted Missouri doesn’t let teams get to the line easily, their may be some opportunities from their front-court this evening given the injury situation – Tony Criswell fouls 4.4 times per 40 minutes, and a couple of Tigers off the bench who may see more minutes than normal this evening may be exploitable – 6’11″ freshman Stefan Jankovic fouls opponents at a clip of 8.8 per 40 minutes, and 6’10″ freshman Ryan Rosburg checks in at 5.2 per 40 minutes.
KenPom: L 84-64 (5%)
TeamRankings: 79-65 (8%)
Vegas: 78.5-64 L (based on spread and total)
Remember, Ken Pomeroy’s numbers don’t know about Missouri’s injury or off-court woes, but Vegas does, and they’ve still installed Missouri as a massive favorite, and with good reason – the Missouri Tigers are a very good team who are even better on their home floor, taking on a deeply-flawed Carolina team that has shown in its four SEC games that it well and truly belongs in the bottom-tier of the SEC.
Of course, while you don’t normally see soft-stories on this blog (we won’t ask questions like whether the Gamecocks chemistry can overcome the mental challenge of road play), we’re also appreciative that these things can and do impact the humans that play the game. But more importantly to me, if the Tigers run out there without three of their starters, they move their rotation from as high as a 10-man rotation to a 7-man rotation, with the three players dropped coming from the starting line-up, not the bench. Given the Gamecocks’ ability to get inside and get to the foul line (even when everything went wrong against Vanderbilt, Carolina was still getting to the line), there’s a chance we could wrong-foot Missouri early and put them behind the 8-ball from a depth perspective. It’s not likely per se, but it’s probably the script we’ll need to follow to have a chance.
There’s room for growth and reasons for optimism around the program, but it’s difficult to see anything other than a tough road loss coming down the pipe in Other Columbia. But, that’s why they play the games, and the Gamecocks will have a chance to impress a national television audience who may tune in on ESPNU to see them take on their first ranked opponent of the year (that’s amazing). Let’s hope they seize it.