The Gamecocks return to Columbia to take on the fast-running Arkansas Razorbacks. While Carolina tries to climb off the bottom of the SEC standings, the Razorbacks are dreaming of moving onto the NCAA tournament bubble.
So far they have been a team of oddly consistent results – when using KenPom ratings (where Arkansas ranks 61st), they are 11-0 against teams outside the top 100, but 1-6 against teams within the top 100, that only win coming by three points at home against another team more like to see the NIT than the NCAAs this season – Oklahoma.
While certainly some of the losses are excusable (by 7 to Wisconsin in Las Vegas, by 9 at home to Syracuse, and on the road to Michigan by 13 and by 12 to Ole Miss), they’ve also dropped winnable road games to Arizona State (also in Vegas) and on the road to Texas A&M, the latter by 18.
Unfortunately, the Gamecocks have been sitting right around the Mendoza line of the KenPom ratings (i.e., around 200) most of the season, so they’ll need to knock Arkansas off form. However, the Razorbacks have yet to win a game this season away from Bud Walton Arena this season. When a resistable force meets a moveable object, something has to give, and will at 1pm ET on Saturday.
|Four Factors||USC O||ARK D||ARK O||USC D||NCAA|
|Shooting||USC O||ARK D||ARK O||USC D|
The Razorbacks come into this game looking to feast on one of Carolina’s primary weakness this season – turning the basketball over. While the Gamecocks have improved considerably during conference play – from 23.9% to 21.4% – this will be the greatest test of their ability to improve on that end, as the Razorbacks love to create turnovers and offensive opportunities through turnovers.
Andy Demetra wrote on his blog post previewing this game that Arkansas thrives on scoring baskets in transition. In that post, Coach Martin spoke of his Kansas State team’s battles with Mike Anderson’s Missouri teams, and the contrast in our offensive style and their defensive style:
“In the past, the battles between Mike’s teams and my teams have been who’s going to be better at what they try to do. We try to rebound. They try to turn you over. The games where we haven’t turned it over and out-rebounded them, we’ve had success. You either run everyone back or you got to go rebound. I like to go rebound.”
Demetra makes the point that basketball is a game of trade-offs, and he’s right – Arkansas loves to score in transition on both the break off of turnovers and after grabbing defensive rebounds, and so when the Gamecocks miss baskets and fail to grab the board (or when they turn it over), transition defense will play an important role in our ability to come away with a win.
Of course, South Carolina can mitigate the damage that Arkansas can do in transition by making shots and grabbing offensive rebounds. Since Arkansas prizes getting out on the break, they don’t do a particularly good job of rebounding defensively. If South Carolina can avoid turnovers and get shots off, they should be able to get multiple opportunities at scoring during many of its possessions, and those second-chance opportunities will be critical to our offense’s ability to be successful against the Razorbacks.
However, making baskets is something the Gamecocks have not been doing a great job of in SEC play. Their eFG in conference play is 42.8% (as opposed to 49.0% overall). That’s coming from both 2PAs, where our shooting percentage is 42.3% in conference (but 48.5% overall) and 3PAs (29.2% in conference; 33.3% overall).
While the 3P% should bounce back, the 2P% may be a continued source of frustration. Arkansas didn’t defend the 2P particularly well in its non-conference schedule, but they’ve stepped up considerably in SEC play, limiting opponents to shooting 41.8% from inside the arc.
However, even if the Gamecocks struggle to make those shots, they’ll need to find a way to get inside and take them to exploit one of their main advantages in this game – getting to the foul line. Arkansas plays an aggressive defensive style, and that results in both a lot of forced turnovers, but also a lot of fouls – both in aggressively going for steals and in trying to compensate for players being out of position when they aren’t able to force the turnover. Given our struggles scoring inside, free throws may be a great way to keep the point total moving upward even when field goals aren’t falling.
On the other side, Arkansas does an amazing job scoring inside, something that the Gamecocks simply haven’t been able to stop much of this season. They also don’t turn the ball over, so Carolina may be forced to stop their shots on defense, not just try to turn them over enough to compensate.
That doesn’t mean creating turnovers is completely out of the question. The Gamecocks have really stepped it up in this area since conference play has started, posting defensive turnover rates of over 25 percent in four of their first five SEC games (Missouri came in at 18.4%). Meanwhile, while the Razorbacks have only turned the ball over on over 20 percent of their possessions in two games this season, those two games occurred in their last four outings, once against Vanderbilt (in an odd 56-33 win, where they held the ‘Dores to 0.51 points per possession), and again against the Ole Miss Rebels, who ran the Hogs out of the building, 96-70.
However, if the turnovers aren’t coming, this will be an interior battle for the Gamecocks, one which they may not be well-primed to win. While the Razorbacks will not overmatch the Gamecocks in height, they focus their scoring on the interior, taking over 70 percent of their FGAs there. Given their limited ability to get to the free throw line (surprising, since they focus on the inside game), the battle inside will be critical for Carolina if they hope to walk away victorious.
To talk about Arkansas basketball players individually is to talk about B.J. Young. The sophomore exploded onto the SEC scene last season and immediately became the focal point of the Arkansas offense, taking 29.9% of their shots while playing (92nd highest in the nation). This year, he’s stepped it up yet another level, shooting 32.1% of Arkansas’ shots (41st in NCAA).
When he’s not shooting, Young is handling the basketball ably, dishing out assists at an incredibly high rate, and similarly limiting turnovers. He’ll be a handful for our guards defensively, and he does a lot of what makes this Arkansas team work.
The main guy he’ll be distributing the ball to is 6’7″ junior Marshawn Powell, who has stepped up his game considerably in his third year in Fayetteville. He’s hitting shots from the field at a 57.7% eFG and also serves as a force inside defensively, blocking 4.8% of the 2PAs taken by the opposition while he’s out there.
The only other player for Arkansas who’s played over half their minutes this season is Mardracus Ware, a guard who disappears on offense (he simply doesn’t take a lot of shots), but who Bruce Ellington and Eric Smith will need to be wary of, as his 4.3% steal rate ranks 57th in the country.
Among other individual Arkansas players, the thing you notice most is just how many guys they regularly rotate into the game. Arkansas’ non-starters play 44.7% of their minutes, which ranks 3rd in the NCAA (it seems almost impossible a team would ever eclipse 50 percent, unless they were rotating over 10 players). So aside from Young and Powell, it’ll be a struggle to remember whose on the court for the Hogs at any particular moment.
One other guy I’d expect to see make a major impact is Coty Clarke, a 6’7″ junior who is a force in the paint on both sides of the court. Clarke doesn’t shoot the ball as well as you might expect, but he handles a lot of the rebounding for Arkansas on both sides of the floor, registers both block and steals on over 3 percent of possessions he plays (I suppose he could do both on some possessions), and gets to the foul line at a rate that could cause Coach Martin and the staff heartburn, given how difficult South Carolina has found other big men they’ve faced this year (such as Hezekiah from S.C. State and Oriakhi from Missouri).
The last Arkansas starter will similarly make points in the paint difficult for the Gamecocks – 6’10” Hunter Mickleson blocks 8.8% of 2PAs taken against him while he’s on the floor.
For the Gamecocks, the offense will need to find a way to get to the free throw line, so I’ll be watching to see if big men R.J. Slawson, Mindaugas Kacinas, and guard Brenton Williams will be able to continue going to the line. The team will also need to continue to dominate the offensive glass in the way they have in other games, especially against this Arkansas team. Even if the Gamecocks aren’t making shots from 2PA at the same clip the Hogs make them, if they get enough extra shots through winning the rebounding battle, and can create opportunities from the foul line based on those rebounds (one of the reason Martin loves offensive boards is the extra chances you get not only for FGAs, but FTAs), then Carolina has a chance.