Better Know An Opponent: Wisconsin-Milwaukee

We’re trying to actually start blogging some this season, and we’ll lead off with a preview of the Gamecocks opening matchup against the UWM Panthers of the Horizon League.

Profile of UWM


The Four Factors

2012 Teams USC Off. UWM Def. UWM Off. USC Def.
Effective FG% 46.2 (284th) 46.1 (44th) 49.3 (163rd) 50.9 (249th)
Turnover % 20.5 (189th) 21.0 (133rd) 21.2 (242nd) 22.7 (50th)
Off. Reb. % 35.9 (41st) 30.0 (79th) 31.6 (194th) 37.4 (330th)
FTA/FGA 26.8 (340th) 34.4 (137th) 38.1 (123rd) 40.3 (253rd)
Pace 62.9 possessions (304th) 66.3 possessions (154th)

While these would normally be the tools to consider in previewing a matchup, this early in the season there’s not much we can learn from how the team’s played as units last year, especially because of Carolina’s changes in both coaching and personnel.  If the game were played last year, it would have been a pretty even matchup, as neither team was particularly good at much of anything.  It will be interesting to see if UWM continues to play as well as it did last year on defense, as they were far better on that side of the ball, and may only regress on offense given the loss of their most talented player.

One thing to look for from the Gamecocks is a dramatic change in their FGA/FTA.  This is something Martin harps on and is a hallmark of a Frank Martin coached team.  As I tweeted the other day, the Gamecocks shot 38 FTAs against Kentucky Wesleyan in their exhibition victory the other night.  Had that been a regular season game, it would’ve been the most FTAs from a Carolina team since Nov. 16, 2009 (against Georgia State).

It’s reasonable to think the Gamecocks will struggle on the glass given their undersized nature, but Jackson and Slawson both proved to be adept rebounders last season.  However, they will need help from at least one other player for the Gamecocks to rebound at the rates they’ll need to in order to have a chance.

UWM Personnel

Player Min% %Poss %Shots eFG% OR% DR% TORate%
Boga 19.4 26.7 25.3 36.4 2.2 15.7 29.4
Haarsma 66.4 20.0 20.3 58.9 10.9 12.2 16.8
Harris 10.5 23.7 17.5 45.5 9.7 17.3 30.4
Gulley 68.9 17.7 22.4 45.3 3.2 7.7 14.3
Kelm 57.5 18.3 18.4 51.3 6.7 15.0 19.1
Richard 20.4 16.8 20.8 32.2 3.4 6.8 14.4
Haggerty 24.7 10.6 10.8 44.8 5.2 6.3 20.6

The Panthers do not return a significant number of minutes, as they lost superstar Kaylon Williams (81.6% of minutes, using 26.1% of possessions).  Williams not only used a ton of possessions, but he set up others for shots, with a preposterous 43.8% assist rate (assists divided by teammate’s field goals while on the court).  He will be missed.

Still in Milwaukee is the excellently named 6’7” forward James Haarsma, a senior who scored the ball brilliantly last season, shooting an effective FG% of 58.9%.  Haarsma can hurt the Gamecocks both inside and out, with a 2P% of 56.8% and a 3P% of 42.5%, he will need the best defender the Gamecocks have available watching him closely.

The other major returners from last year are Paris Gulley (seriously, great names) and Kyle Kelm.  Neither Gulley nor Kelm created a lot of offense themselves or with their passing last season, and both will need to take on additional responsibilities for the Panthers offense to succeed.  Clearly though, the focus on UWM’s offense will be to get the ball to Haarsma and let him do his thing, especially against the undersized Gamecocks.

To help, the Panthers brought in four recruits, two from junior college.  The only recruit ranked by ESPN is Donald Thomas, who rated as the 92nd best small forward in the country.  It stands to reason UWM will be looking to its bench players to improve and step up as opposed to having these guys fill the minutes.  Will know more on Saturday morning, after UWM plays its opener on Friday night.

Gamecock Personnel

Player Min% %Poss %Shots eFG% OR% DR% TORate%
Leonard 52.4 20.5 25.7 42.6 2.0 6.3 17.2
Williams 25.9 22.9 26.4 50.4 1.5 6.1 16.4
Slawson 44.4 16.8 15.7 48.3 10.6 17.5 21.4
Jackson 42.4 16.0 12.6 47.3 6.9 13.1 27.4
Smith 32.0 19.8 18.6 51.0 0.9 7.6 29.2
Richardson 24.7 18.8 23.0 37.1 3.1 7.3 16.7

Yikes.  The Gamecocks will not have their four most-leading contributors from last season (Ellington, Cooke, Gill and Harris) on the floor when they tip off the 2012-13 season, and it shows.  The Gamecocks have severe issues on trying to figure out who will utilize possessions – Leonard and Williams have both shown an affinity for using them, but only Williams has done so efficiently.  Slawson, Jackson, and Smith will each need to take on additional weight to counter for the missing pieces of the team that simply aren’t here this year.

The Gamecocks also need someone who can score the basketball.  None of these guys shoots particularly well – Smith and Williams are the only shooters above 50% eFG (NCAA average is about 49%).  They will get to the line more under Martin, but can they do it enough to account for what will likely be bad shooting (against KWU, the Gamecocks shot 41% eFG from the field)?

The Gamecocks added Laimonas Chatkevicius, Michael Carrera, and Minda Kacinas this offseason.  While Carrera looked confident in the Kentucky Wesleyan exhibition (getting to the line an impressive 13 times and grabbing 7 boards), he’ll need to keep maturing in order to be successful.  Still, he gave a very competent 19 minutes, and given how deep Martin typically runs the bench, I’d expect him to see a significant amount of playing time as well this game.

Projections

Pomeroy                     65-59 W (72%)

TeamRankings           69.4-67.1 (56.7%)

Vegas                          TBD

The Gamecocks are favored, but not by much, and it’s not difficult to understand why if you watched the exhibition and have followed the story of this team through the offseason.  Breaking in a young-ish roster into a new system short-handed is not a recipe for success.  UWM is not a particularly good team – they will struggle in a good for a mid-major, but not great conference (the Horizon League), and are a game that a top 50 team that South Carolina wants to be will beat with ease.

South Carolina is not, as of yet, a top 50 team.  Honestly, with the guys going out on the floor, it could be argued South Carolina might not be a top 150 team.

One interesting thought game is to wonder how playing a non-Division 1 opponent (the University of Mary, which is a thing, apparently) on Friday night in Milwaukee.  Will UWM be running with slightly softened legs?  Or will they work some of the kinks out while getting all their players some minutes before jumping up to the big leagues?  It will be impossible to know the counterfactual (and thus the answer to the question), but the results of that game will be something to look for over the weekend.

Final Analysis

I hate to be a pessimist, but this game looks about even, and when a game looks even, I typically like to see if there’s one area one team can exploit that the other cannot stop when the game’s on the line.  For me, in this game, that’s the matchup with Haarsma.  If the Gamecocks can stop him, I think they’ll win going away.  But if it’s a close game late, the Panthers have a scorer.  Do the Gamecocks?  Brenton Williams made a nice play to end the Kentucky Wesleyan game with a basket, giving Carolina the win, but do you trust him when the lights are on for real?

I’ll predict that the Gamecocks open the Frank Martin era with a heartbreaking 62-60 loss, and spend my Sunday hoping like hell I’m wrong.

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About marvinnedick

Blogging from the mid-Atlantic on Gamecock sports, as well as general musings on sports theory otherwise.
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