Better Know An Opponent: Jacksonville

With almost a week to lick their wounds off consecutive losses to Clemson and St. John’s, the Gamecocks are back in action this weekend for one game against Jacksonville before taking a 12-day break for exams.  While Jacksonville is not a particularly talented team, South Carolina has clearly shown over the first month that it does not take a particularly talented team to beat them.  Hopefully the two games against better opposition, coupled with about a week to focus on team issues, allows the Gamecocks to come out tomorrow night and play improved basketball.

The Four Factors

Taken from KenPom.com (national rank in parenthetical)

USC O Jax D Jax O USC D
eFG 50.7 (94) 51.5 (267) 43.9 (289) 51.5 (266)
TO% 27.5 (337) 24.9 (36) 24.3 (301) 19.8 (222)
OReb 46.1 (4) 35.9 (276) 35.7 (82) 30.5 (121)
FTR 39.8 (105) 47.9 (318) 40.8 (91) 41.3 (242)
Adj. Pace 65.7 (228) 69.6 (51)

So let’s harp on something that we’ve been harping on around here lately – turnovers.  Coach Martin said the following this week:

Our team defense has been not great, but it’s been good enough to win with. The problem is we’re giving teams so many free points because of our inability to play offense.

It’s one of those things that the numbers can’t always (easily) tell us, but is important to remember – while we separate these things into the offense / defense dichotomy presented above, an otherwise good defensive team can look quite bad if its offense concedes easy baskets.  I was interested to see if Martin’s point showed up in the numbers, so I pulled together this chart that shows South Carolina’s defensive points per possession in the left-hand column and its offensive turnover rate in the right-hand column:

Opponent

Opp. PPP (x 100)

USC TO%

Opp. Steal%

UWM

97.6

22.1

8.8

Morgan St.

92.9

26.2

14.7

Rider

104.4

24.7

12.0

Elon

96.1

32.5

17.4

Missouri St.

91.4

34.1

13.7

UALR

96.0

32.6

16.2

St. John’s

138.0

18.7

11.9

Clemson

100.8

29.9

14.9

Oddly, the correlation goes the way you wouldn’t expect it to – the more steals or turnovers forced by Carolina’s opposition, the lower number of points they score on each possession.  These numbers aren’t statistically relevant and I certainly don’t believe that story, but it does go to reminds us of two things: (1) correlation not only doesn’t tell the whole story, but can sometimes tell you the wrong story; and (2) there are some things we need our eyes to tell us.  That, or Martin’s completely off the radar when it comes to turnovers giving up easy baskets.  I don’t think that’s the case, but it’s interesting all the same.

Why highlight turnovers again?  Well, if you look above, you’ll notice it’s an area where thus far South Carolina has struggled mightily on offense, while it’s the one area of defense that Jacksonville has gotten right.  Otherwise, they’ve been rubbish. (Pomeroy has their defense’s SOS at 98th, so while some of this can potentially be attributed to that figure, surely not all of the remaining figures can be because of a tough schedule).  It’s also interesting to note that Jacksonville’s steal percentage is only 140th, so it is at least possible some of its turnovers are unforced errors (though more likely they pressure teams into bad passes out-of-bounds as opposed to passes stolen by the Dolphins).  Given the success Carolina has found at times in the transition offense, as well as from evenings where they were shooting well and grabbing offensive rebounds, it seems like Jacksonville is the type of team where South Carolina can be effective.  If they can hold onto the ball.

On defense, the Gamecocks faced an interesting matchup, as the Dolphins simply can’t shoot.  They sport a mediocre at best 2PA% (at 46.9%) and a horrific 3PA% (at 24.3%).  However, most of their 3PAs come from three sources – guard Keith McDougald; wing player Dylan Fristch; and freshman guard Marcellous Bell.  The team’s 3PA% is being drug down by McDougald’s shooting from beyond the arc (6 of 34), but given his rates of 34 and 35 percent in prior years, one would expect that to go up over the course of the year.  That said, given its current reduced rate, coupled with the relatively few 3PAs taken, and the Dolphins find most of their points from either 2PAs or FTAs.

Jacksonville isn’t much better at preventing turnovers than the Gamecocks, either.  They seem to be better at rebounding, but given Carolina’s (relative) strength in this area, it seems something that can be neutralized.  Jacksonville also does a good job at getting to the line, though they haven’t hit from there as well as you’d like to make it a truly effective part of their repertoire (68.1%).  That said, McDougald, Jarvis Haywood, and Glenn Powell (a 6’6” senior) all do good work at getting to the line.

Personnel

Given time constraints, I am not going to run a full table for the Dolphins stats, but the general numbers are available here.  Glenn Powell does a great job for them in both scoring efficiently and grabbing rebounds on both ends of the court.  McDougald starts and takes good care of the basketball, while the other Jacksonville guard (Russell Powell) has done a nice job finding teammates, assisting 27.3% of the field goals made by his teammates while he’s been on the floor.

Jacksonville has been spreading the minutes around, with ten of its players consistently playing ten or more minutes, and thus each accounting for between 29-65% of the minutes played.  Given the quicker tempo that the Dolphins try to run, this should mean fresh legs on the court for them throughout most of the night.  However, given Martin’s similar penchant for going 9-10 deep, I don’t anticipate this to be a major issue for the Gamecocks on the evening.

For Carolina, Brenton Williams continues to put on an excellent display of offensive basketball.  He’s shooting 62.5% eFG while taking 26% of the shots while on the court, matching efficiency with volume in a way that really heightens his value.  Carrera continues to grab over 20% of the rebounds available to him on either end of the court, but his value will be limited so long as he continues to foul others at a rate of 7.5 fouls per 40 minutes (at that rate, he would foul out after playing 27 minutes).

I’m still convinced – eyeballs aside – that the talent is there for South Carolina to put together a good offense, though I’m not sure there’s anything more than five guys who can really pull it together (I’d roll out Page, Williams, Carrera, Jackson, and Kacinas).  One of the larger issues at the moment for the Gamecocks right now is they struggle to find someone who can both create shots for himself and others while avoiding turnovers.  Eric Smith has done a nice job creating scoring opportunities for his teammates this season (assisting on 21% of their made baskets while he’s out there), yet 32% of the possessions that are ended by Eric Smith result not in shots, but in turnovers.  Ellington (in limited action) is posting a similar rate of 31%, and Richardson isn’t much better at 27%.  Simply put, the guards need to be able to take care of the basketball a bit better to make this whole thing go.

Predictions

KenPom                       73-64 W (79%)

TeamRankings             74-65 W (80%)

Vegas                           TBA

Overall, it is hard to get away from the simple fact that the Gamecocks are better than the Dolphins, and should be able to pull off this victory.  One thing that will warm some hearts is that this might be one of the only games where size is not an issue – Jacksonville spots only one player over 6’6” tall (and he plays the fewest minutes of anyone on the team).  It will be interesting to see a team that looks like the Gamecocks in that sense.

I live in DC so probably won’t get the game on TV (and besides, have work-related holiday functions to attend to), but will hope to catch a rewind at some point.  If you’re able to, head out to the CLA or find the action on the television and let’s see if Carolina can’t improve on its last two performances before heading into exams.

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About marvinnedick

Blogging from the mid-Atlantic on Gamecock sports, as well as general musings on sports theory otherwise.
This entry was posted in 2012-13 Basketball, Better Know An Opponent. Bookmark the permalink.

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