Scouting Report: South Carolina

Tuesday night's loss at Florida was quite disappointing in its own right, but on the first Saturday of February, the Vanderbilt basketball team will attempt to avenge the worst SEC loss it has suffered this season.


The Commodores find themselves entering a crucial three-game homestand this Saturday with their second game against South Carolina, a February 10 matchup against SEC West leading Alabama, and a visit by No. 11 Kentucky.

What's at stake? Much. Vanderbilt needs to climb into the upper half of the SEC East standings; right now it sits in dead last, behind even Georgia and the boys from Columbia, who waltz into Nashville this weekend. The Gamecocks are positioning themselves onto the proverbial NCAA bubble, so from Vandy's perspective, the Dores need to put USC in its rightful place.

What does Vanderbilt need to do to start playing at the level expected of this team after the big weekend in Puerto Rico over two months ago? The Commodores need to know who they are on offense. Why has Jeffery Taylor taken more 3-pointers in the last three games than John Jenkins? Yes, Jenkins has developed his all-around game while Taylor has improved as a shooter. However, an athlete of Taylor's ability needs to be more active in attacking the rim and using his mid-range (jump shot) game than being content to shoot threes. It's a topic many Commodore fans would rather leave unsaid, but one has to wonder if Taylor is thinking more about NBA draft position, with a weak draft this year, than his contributions to the team right now. I think his 34 percent 3-point shooting rate shows plenty of scouts that he is graced with considerable all-around ability, but Vandy's game is predicated on earning trips to the foul line. One of the best at doing that needs to be Jeffery Taylor.

A huge key for the Commodores on Saturday is finding a way of getting Sam Muldrow away from the basket where he wreaked havoc in the first meeting. Do not be surprised to see Kevin Stallings bring Festus Ezeli out to set ball screens for either Taylor or Jenkins while letting Brad Tinsley (and Jenkins when he does not have the ball) spot up.

SOUTH CAROLINA AT-A-GLANCE

The January 8 defeat on the road at the hands of coach Darrin Horn's squad may be the most disappointing of the Commodores' six losses this season, right up there with the Arkansas defeat. While it is easy to say it was on the road and Columbia is not the easiest place to play (ask the Dores and Kentucky last year just to name two examples), Vanderbilt clearly has superior talent when compared to the Gamecocks. Apart from South Carolina point guard Bruce Ellington, it would be hard to argue that one member of the Cocks' squad would start for Kevin Stallings's team.

What needs to be clearly understood by everyone in Black and Gold this Saturday is that a loss to South Carolina means Vanderbilt may finish no better than fifth in the SEC East unless it gets some help. Does that put the NCAA Tournament in jeopardy? Probably not yet, but it could mean a rough seeding, which makes March difficult, especially for a team that has not had much postseason success.

Starting Lineup

Forward – Sam Muldrow –
Senior, 6-9 229; 2010-11: 10.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg

The Gamecocks' lone senior dominated the paint in the first matchup between these two schools, earning only the second triple-double in South Carolina. Muldrow blocked 10 shots and held Ezeli to seven points on two of seven shooting. Stallings must find ways to draw Muldrow away from the basket, possibly putting him in situations where he is defending screen and rolls on the perimeter.

Forward – Lakeem Jackson Sophomore, 6-5, 230; 2010-11: 8.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg

While Vandy fans will remember Muldrow's paintwork and Ellington's shooting, Jackson's performance, while forgotten by many, was vital to South Carolina's win a month ago. In addition to his solid defensive presence, Jackson scored 15 points while playing 40 minutes. Jackson continues to have trouble finding touches in the South Carolina offense. His 6-5 body makes it hard to use him on the low block, and his outside shooting has not developed enough to make him a reliable threat from the perimeter. All that is to say the following: You can bet VU will be looking to put a body on him and not let him get the easy buckets he did the first time around.

Forward – Damontre Harris – Freshman, 6-9, 214; 2010-11: 3.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg

More has been expected from the tall freshman, but Harris seems to have a bright future ahead of him with South Carolina, especially after Muldrow graduates this year. Harris, as with many freshmen players, struggles with inconsistency. He will play over 20 minutes one game and then barely see the floor the next time out. These fluctuations are the product of his efforts to determine where he belongs with the Gamecocks' lineup. Having said that, when he gets the ball in a position to score, Harris is very effective, making nearly 60 percent of his shots. One thing that can be said in his favor is he knows his role and does not try to be someone he is not. This cannot be said about many freshmen basketball players at the Division I level.

Guard – Brian Richardson – Freshman, 6-4, 164; 2010-11: 7.3 ppg, .333 3-PT %

Richardson continues to be a one-dimensional player at the offensive end of the court, only looking for 3-point shots instead of integrating himself into Horn's offensive philosophy. He was a non-factor in the Cocks' win over the Dores in round one, being held scoreless in nine minutes. Nearly all of his scoring comes beyond the arc. Look for Jenkins to guard him and conserve a lot of energy for his own offensive game, something he was able to do successfully in Columbia.

Guard – Bruce Ellington – Freshman, 5-9, 197; 2010-11: 14.5 ppg, 3.5 apg, .376 3-PT %

Ellington is not the scorer Devan Downey was, but do not tell Kevin Stallings that. The freshman guard helped bring the Gamecocks back from a sure defeat a month ago against VU by scoring 12 of South Carolina's final 15 points in regulation. He demonstrated a repeated ability to nail shots from long distance. Any plan to defeat South Carolina must involve containing Ellington. If Kyle Fuller could bring anything offensively for Vanderbilt, he would get his chance to do it. As it stands, look for Tinsley to guard Ellington and hope that the outcome will be different in Memorial Gym.

Bench

The Gamecocks' bench continues to be only two deep, with occasional contributions from an eighth player. Backing up the guards is Ramon Galloway, who is quite possibly the best shooter on the team. Expect him to get a bunch of Richardson's minutes if he struggles like he did in the first matchup. Malik Cooke backs up the forwards, averages eight and a half points a game, and is on the only other upperclassman (Muldrow) on the roster.

Keys to the Game

1) Attack Muldrow with effectiveness.
Its one thing to pound the ball inside only to have shots repeatedly rejected. It is another to go hard to the rim and make it difficult for Muldrow to defend. The officiating is always different at home versus the road (for anyone), so VU needs to make it a priority to either get Muldrow into foul trouble or make him defend away from the basket.

2) Make Ellington a driver. South Carolina finds success when Ellington is able to hit shots from long range. He's a difficult guard in that he is not only a good shooter, but also small and quick off the dribble. Typically a coach would want to contain a quick point guard, but Ellington is very dangerous when allowed to shoot the ball. Vanderbilt should get up in his grill, make him uncomfortable, and force him to drive. Yes, this may create scoring opportunities for other players, but those other players are not as good a scorer as Ellington is.

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