A lot of what we do at this site is try to think about how to put together ways to win basketball games through all sorts of manners, including getting to the foul line, avoiding turnovers, and offensive rebounding. And in doing that, we sometimes fail to harp on the fundamental importance of one thing – shooting.
Against Arkansas yesterday, the South Carolina Gamecocks pummeled the Razorbacks on this basis alone, out-shooting the visitors from short-range, long-range, and the free throw line. Despite struggling at times with turnovers, shooting (and continuing to pound the offensive glass so as to create more shooting opportunities, compensating for those given away by turnovers) let the Gamecocks take a 15-3 deficit at the first media timeout and turn it into a 43-26 advantage they would never come close to relinquishing.
The Four Factors
We didn’t bury the lede (the folks who did the best job of that yesterday became internet famous on Deadspin) – the Gamecocks turned the ball over more than you’d hope they would have, but grabbed enough offensive rebounds so that in the end, they took exactly as many FGAs as Arkansas took on the day, and got two additional FTAs. And then, South Carolina made a whole bunch of those shots, and Arkansas missed a whole bunch of them. That’s really that.
The Gamecocks continue to steadily improve as a team defensively as the season has worn on, a success that Coach Martin has attributed to the return of Bruce Ellington. Three of our top five defensive efforts have now come in conference play (we held Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, and now Arkansas to less than 0.90 points per possession – the NCAA average is just shy of 1.00).
I’m not sure that the Gamecocks are going to be able to continue to match those statistics as the games wear on – as we’ve indicated here many times before – defensively, you can control the number of 3PAs your opponent takes, but not the percentage of those that it makes (sorry if this ever gets redundant, but I like posts to be able to stand alone as much as possible, and this fact simply hasn’t entered the public consciousness at a level that makes it not worth repeating).
Unfortunately, all of Carolina’s jump in eFG% hasn’t come from improved 2PA defense.
In SEC play, the Gamecocks have “held” opponents to 48.5% shooting from 2PA. And in non-conference play? Also 48.5%. Now with that point made, I do think there’s been some improvement on that front over the last few games, and that number is inflated by the porous performance we had against Auburn. But still, that’s not where we’ve seen improvement.
Rather, the eFG% defensive improvement comes from allowing teams to take more 3PAs (35.9% in SEC games, versus 31.2% in all games) and bask in the good fortune of their misses – teams are hitting 26.1% of 3PAs against us in conference play. In all games, teams have shot 30.2% against Carolina, good for 41st best (or luckiest) in the NCAA, and well below the 33.7% national average.
These numbers may come crashing down pretty soon, as we travel to Gainesville on Wednesday evening to face the Florida Gators, a team that is hitting 38.2% of its 3PAs (27th in the country) and taking 3PAs on over 40% of its FGAs (32nd in the nation).
There is a lot of praise to be handed out when you see shooting numbers like those above, but I’ll save mine for the guys I was most pleased to see helping boost our 2PA% – Brian Richardson, who had another outstanding offensive game, and Bruce Ellington, who did a great job of getting buckets inside (4-6 2PA shooting) and helped get a few for his teammates as well (four assists).
More importantly, Bruce contributed to the disparity between our shooting and the Hogs’ shooting by holding B.J. Young to 3-12 shooting from the field, and only allowing him one FTA to boot.
While we weren’t able to come up with a defensive answer on the inside to either Marshawn Powell (who spent his day going 9-14 from the field, 3-5 from the line, and grabbing six offensive rebounds) or Coty Clarke (3-4 from the field with two offensive rebounds in 19 minutes), the Razorbacks simply didn’t go to those guys enough to overcome the disasterous game they got from their backcourt (2-16 from 3PA is hard to overcome).
This game reminds me a lot of the Vanderbilt game – it doesn’t fundamentally change my view of the program, but I know it changes the view of others. Simply put, in both games, there was a vast disparity in shooting the basketball, and it held all the difference.
It’s a good win for the Gamecocks, and hopefully something they can build upon. And they’d best build quickly, as a trip looms to Gainesville on Wednesday evening. The Gators are one of the top 3-5 teams in the nation by any measure, and anything other than our best effort is going to get us blown out of the gym (our best effort may get us blown out of the gym).
So as a parting thought, I’d encourage Carolina fans to enjoy this victory, because it’s a good one and a well-earned one. And I’d also suggest that everyone start understanding what progress will look like coming out of Gainesville. Getting blown out by Florida would put us in the same company as Wisconsin, Marquette, Florida State, and Missouri. It’s what they’ve done to a lot of teams they’ve played this year. Let’s hope for the best, but be reasoned in our response to the outcome.
Unless we win, of course. Then throw reason out the window and celebrate however you like.