The Gamecocks have been busy (and so have we, as well as the football team) over the last week. The ‘Cocks suffered their first defeat of the season last Wednesday with a brutal performance against Elon (a 65-53 loss at home), before going to Puerto Vallarta to win the Hoops for Hope Classic, grabbing an exciting overtime win over Missouri State (74-67) and then drubbing Arkansas-Little Rock in a game that was not nearly as close as the 74-62 final score indicated. We’ll do a truncated look at each of these games below.
This was a game where Carolina just couldn’t seem to get a stop when they needed to to bring the game back within reach. The numbers above show that what Coach Martin had discussed in the immediately preceding press conference – that the team would struggle to win on a night where it didn’t shoot well – proved prophetic.
The Gamecocks did what they do this year – they rebounded extraordinarily well (especially on the offensive end), and turned the ball over a preposterous amount. However, instead of throwing up an eFG in the 50s or 60s (as they have in every other game bar this one and UWM), Carolina shot woefully from the field – 32.4% from 2PA and 31.6% from 3PA. They didn’t get to the line enough to change the calculus, and certainly didn’t play defense well enough to make up for it.
This was the first time I’d seen Carolina in person this year, and my goodness, the turnovers on offense are mind boggling. What’s frustrating to my (mostly untrained) eye is that they don’t seem to be forced by the opposition or a necessary component of the offense. There are tradeoffs in basketball – some teams that create more turnovers end up with a higher Opp2PA% because they give up easy baskets going for those turnovers. However, I can’t seem to see any benefit or reason the Gamecocks would be turning the ball over so frequently except for unfamiliarity with the system, or (as I thought in this game), from simple sloppiness.
On the season, the Gamecocks are turning the ball over on 28.5% of their possessions. I get that this number might be slightly inflated because the Gamecocks simply have longer possessions than some other teams (based on a slower tempo and, more relevantly, longer possessions due to rebounding 44.6% of their misses), but they just don’t derive enough of a benefit from playing this way to justify this rate, and it’s going to kill them going forward. If these are the turnover rates against Elon (who isn’t particularly adept at forcing turnovers, getting them on 23% of possessions in this early part of the season), God help them against Florida or even a team like LSU, who’s forcing turnovers right now on over a quarter of opposition possessions.
On defense, the Gamecocks didn’t play particularly poorly, but it seemed every time they needed a stop, Elon hit a big 3 (8-15 on the night). The 3-point shot did the Gamecocks in defensively, as they were otherwise pretty stout, holding Elon to 18-42 shooting from 2PA and keeping them off the line (5-11 FTAs, though let’s not credit Carolina too much for the missed FTAs). But the Gamecocks couldn’t force turnovers, and so even with their offensive rebounding, they took one fewer shot from the field (though had 6 additional FTAs). Simply put, it takes a lot to overcome a 52.6-37.5 deficit in eFG if you’re also going to turn the ball over on 3 of 10 possessions.
No one played particularly well on the evening, and it was a game where the depth and spark that Carrera brings were both missed. Martin played his 8-man rotation in a very democratic way, with everyone but Jackson getting between 19-30 minutes. The only exception was Lakeem Jackson, who played 36 minutes and was the best offensive threat Carolina had – taking over a quarter of the shots while on the court and hitting them at a 54% eFG rate. Lakeem also grabbed 16% of the offensive misses Carolina had with him on the court and 14% of Elon’s, which is an outstanding contribution for a guy who should probably be playing small forward.
Page and Richardson were the other heavy shooters, but each came out cold and stayed that way, shooting 18.8% and 20.8% eFG, respectively. If those are the guys taking in excess of 25% of your shots while they’re on the floor, and they’re playing substantial minutes, you’re in trouble.
|Four Factors||Missouri State||USC|
So this is fun. At times, people criticize statistics because “they can’t capture what we see on the court.” Well, unless you play on the team or flew down to Mexico, we’re all stuck with nothing else but the statistics. So let’s see what they tell us.
First, hats off to Carolina for bouncing back and grabbing a couple of nice wins on the trip. That said, it took Carrera making his first 3PA of the season to get it to overtime, where for the second time this season, Carolina put the game away.
We said in the Elon review that it takes a pretty ridiculous effort to make up for a 20-point disparity in eFG. Well here Missouri State nearly showed us what it takes. Though Carolina outshot Elon 66.7-43.2, they damn near did themselves in by turning the ball over twice as often as Missouri State, and surprisingly only rebounding one-sixth of their misses (to MSU’s 27.5 OReb rate). The Gamecocks helped themselves by getting to the line (and far more importantly, hitting 79% of those free throws), but this game is a good example of how you can almost win a game when you don’t shoot well. It’s what the Gamecocks needed to do against Elon.
One of the interesting things this season has been how the Gamecocks have seemed to rise and fall on offense based on LaShay Page, who has taken 27% or more of the shots available while he’s on the floor in every game this year. Page has shot over 50% eFG in 4 of 6 games, and Carolina lost one and went to OT v UWM in the other. Here, however, Page shot very well – taking 35%(!) of the shots he had available to him while playing 36 minutes, hitting at an eFG rate of 68%.
In the final game of last week, South Carolina laid into Arkansas-Little Rock, jumping out to a double-digit lead at the 8 minute mark of the first half and never looked back. I caught this game on the radio (like every other member of the Gamecock faithful, I did not closely follow the Missouri State game as it was happening), and Andy Demetra kept saying there was nothing to quibble about from this effort.
He’s close to right, but the overarching theme of this entry comes back around here – Carolina otherwise played wonderfully, shot the lights out, grabbed over half their own misses (amazing), and yet turned the ball over on over 30% of their possessions. Cut that number down to just 20% (which would only be good for about 140th in the nation, so it’s not exactly a stretch) and that’s another 7 possessions, which could end up being another 9-10 FGAs (or equivalent FTAs) given the Gamecock’s offensive rebounding prowess. It’s what’s stopping this team from really putting it all together on the offensive end. That said, I never thought I’d see this team put it all together on offense this season (I had us pegged backward – figured Martin could fix a lot on defense but that the offense simply wouldn’t have scorers), but it’s quite heartening to see the team come so far, so fast.
Speaking of that defense, the Gamecocks did a whole lot right on this evening, getting UALR to post a 0.93 point per possession effort (and that helped considerably by a scoring spurt to draw the game far closer than it actually was in the last few minutes). Carolina kept the Trojans from getting anything done particularly well. Without seeing it, it’s hard to give you many specifics on what was done particularly effectively, but the numbers are happy with the 17% block rate (blocks divided by opponent’s 2PAs) and the 16% steal percentage the Gamecocks put together.
The week was a showing that Carolina isn’t as bad as they looked against Elon, but not as good as we hoped they might be when we watched them get it going against Morgan State. Simply stated, it’ll take more offensive efforts like the one against UALR for us to really take that extra step forward this season. I think the potential for that is there, and we’re helped by the fact the SEC schedule opens about as gently as we could hope: it’s not unfathomable that USC could emerge 3-1 after @ Miss. St.; Auburn; @ LSU, and Vanderbilt. And with a rather week non-conference scheduled lined up from December 3rd onward, the Gamecocks could in their best-case scenario start to look like the 2009 team that had a far better record than team, bolstered by a weak OOC slate and a putrid SEC East.
Of course, that still leaves two games to speak of, both this week, and both good barometers for just how far we’ve come thus far. South Carolina heads to Queens on Thursday evening to take on St. John’s as a part of the Big East-SEC Challenge, before returning home on Sunday to face the Clemson Tigers. We’ll be in attendance on Thursday night and watching closely on Sunday, and hope you’ll do the same – this team is frustrating at times but entertaining and growing, and they deserve more attention in the Columbia area than they’ve gotten thus far.