Second-Time Scouting Report: South Carolina
The date was March 6, 2010. The scene? Memorial Gym. The final score: South Carolina 77, Vanderbilt 73. It was a game in which the Dores got torched by a quality backcourt, even though VU was a commanding favorite in the minutes before tip-off time in Nashville. That game should be enough to get coach Kevin Stallings's attention as he prepares his young men for Wednesday night's game in Music City.
There's one other thing that should get the Dores' minds focused on this game and not the Saturday CBS showcase in Rupp Arena: Vanderbilt – with three wins in its next four games – will not only assure itself of a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament, but a likely No. 2 seed in said tournament. The Dores – if they were to take care of business against Carolina, Florida and Tennessee – could lose at Kentucky and still get the two seed in New Orleans, due to a better SEC East record than Florida (with a head-to-head split in the season series). If VU somehow loses this game against South Carolina, it will be staring at the very real possibility of a first-round Thursday in the Big Easy, not to mention a lowered seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Clearly, there's a lot riding on this game. It's no time or place for a 2010-style letdown against the Gamecocks.
SOUTH CAROLINA AT-A-GLANCE
South Carolina is very much like the Georgia team Vandy just disposed of on Sunday: It can't score. Really – why waste time dancing around the real issue? The Gamecocks average just 62 points per game and shoot only 41 percent from the field. They've won only twice in SEC play, and the scores of those games were 56-54 (Alabama) and 57-56 (Georgia). There's not one player on this roster who can be classified as a gifted natural scorer. There's not one pure shooter on the squad. There's not one devastating slasher who can get to the tin with regularity. The Gamecocks have to win with defense and hustle plays because their bench does not give them significant secondary and tertiary scoring options behind main man Malik Cooke. Coach Darrin Horn needs to get better players if he wants to survive in Columbia.
BONUS SECTION: STATISTICAL PROFILE
-- Like Georgia (Sunday's just-vanquished VU foe), South Carolina ranks (un)comfortably within the bottom 25 percent in the nation in points per game (62), assists per game (10.2), and field goal shooting percentage (41). The 10.2 assists-per-game rate places South Carolina 327th out of 348 Division I-A teams.
-- South Carolina allows only 64.8 points per game, a few points below the national average of 67.1.
-- South Carolina's 3-point field goal defense is suspect; the Gamecocks allow opponents to hit 38.9 percent of triples, well above the national average of 34.3 percent (the SEC average is just 33.2 percent).
-- Points per possession scored: 0.97
-- Points per possession allowed: 1.02
-- Effective field goal percentage (shooting percentage weighted to include three-poin shots): 46.9, which is eighth in the SEC and 265th in the United States.
Forward – Damontre Harris – Sophomore, 6-9, 214 2011-12: 7 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.4 blocks per game
Harris has not become a markedly improved scorer over the past several weeks, but Vanderbilt will clearly notice that Harris's shot-blocking effectiveness has remained steady. Harris averaged 2.1 blocks per game when VU first met the Gamecocks this season, and now that average is at 2.4. He's no Anthony Davis, but he'll provide a worthy defensive challenge in preparation for VU's rematch with Kentucky this upcoming Saturday. Attacking Harris in the low post will therefore be a priority for the Dores at the offensive end of the floor.
Forward – R.J. Slawson – Sophomore, 6-8, 196; 2011-12: 5 ppg, 3.9 rpg
Slawson has played at least 20 minutes only two times since the SEC season began (Jan. 14 against Florida and Feb. 8 against Tennessee). Teammate Anthony Gill, who had been a starter for the Gamecocks earlier in the season, still plays starter-level minutes (just under 30 in the past five games), but he does so as a sixth man. Gill averages 8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, eclipsing Slawson's level of production. The fact that Gill is a freshman is the likely cause of this wrinkle in South Carolina's rotation; Horn gives Gill more minutes than Slawson, but he sits him at the start of games in order to settle Gill's nerves and allow him to more quickly capture the feel and flow of a given game.
Forward– Malik Cooke – Senior, 6-6, 213; 2011-12: 12.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.8 assists and 1.7 steals per game
Cooke has done nothing over the past several weeks to change the notion that he's South Carolina's best and most complete player. In the Gamecocks' most recent outing, a 10-point loss at home to LSU on Feb. 18, Cooke was the only player to score more than nine points, tallying 17 on a day when he didn't get much help. Cooke continues to make himself useful at the defensive end of the floor with quick hands and sound instincts. There are many problems and deficiencies found on the Gamecocks' 2012 roster. Cooke is definitely not one of them.
Guard – Damien Leonard – Freshman, 6-5, 179; 2011-12: 6.5 ppg, 1.1 rpg
Leonard was not part of South Carolina's starting lineup the last time the Gamecocks faces Vanderbilt. He replaced low-impact forward Lakeem Jackson to give South Carolina a more traditional three-forward, two-guard lineup, a change from the four-forward, one-guard setup that Horn threw at Kevin Stallings in early January. Leonard can fall in love with the three-point shot. He attempted eight long balls in two separate contests earlier this month (Feb. 4 against Kentucky and Feb. 11 versus Arkansas). He scored 19 points in Carolina's loss to Kentucky, making him a primary target for VU's defense in this rematch. LSU and coach Trent Johnson clearly idenitified Leonard's three-point shooting tendency in their scouting report. They took away the three from Leonard, giving him just two attempts this past Saturday. As a result, the Tigers limited Leonard to just four points. Coach Stallings, you have your game plan.
Guard – Bruce Elllington – Sophomore, 5-9, 197; 2011-12: 9.7 ppg, 2.6 apg
When the Commodores first faced the Gamecocks, Ellington was receiving far more minutes than teammate Eric Smith, but Smith was the listed starter for South Carolina. Now, the natural order of things has been established, with Ellington starting and Smith giving him an occasional breather on the pine. Ellington is not scoring or shooting the way this team needs him to. However, give the sophomore points for trying. He's snared an average of five rebounds per game over the last two weeks, encompassing a four-game span against Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia, and LSU.
You have seen – in the first scouting report and now this second look at the Gamecocks – that Carolina's top eight players are very interchangeable parts. You've seen that three former starters – Jackson, Smith and Gill – are now reserves. You also know that some bench players get more minutes than starters (in the case of the Gill-Slawson connection). The only other player that hasn't been mentioned yet is guard Brenton Williams, a 5-11, 165-pound freshman who averages 5.7 points per game in just under 14 minutes of playing time. The verdict on Carolina's bench is no different from what it was the last time these two teams faced off: The Gamecocks' reserves have to generate more scoring production; they still haven't found the fountain of youthful double-doubles. They still haven't stumbled on the pot of threes at the end of the (high-arcing) rainbow. Unless or until this team can give defenses a few extra causes for concern, it's going to encounter very tough sledding.
Keys to the Game
1) If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Vanderbilt, to its great credit, has not slipped on the banana peel in SEC competition this season. The Commodores are in the top three of the conference because they haven't given away a bad loss to a clearly inferior team. They've been playing superb defense against the lower-rung teams from the SEC East. There's no need to change the formula – or plead for urgency – in this contest. When a band of basketball brothers establishes a healthy habit, just expect more of the same and get to work.
2) Look at Leonard. Damien Leonard is the player who could slip through the cracks and not become a defensive priority until it's too late. Vanderbilt must watch the Gamecocks' new starter and prevent him from getting on a hot streak. As long as one of South Carolina's few long-distance threats doesn't bust loose, the Gamecocks will not be able to score enough to win on Wednesday.
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