Scouting Report: South Carolina
The truly exasperating part of VU's loss to Ole Miss on Tuesday night was not Marshall Henderson's game-tying shot. It wasn't even the 10-of-23 performance at the foul line that gave the Rebels a chance to find the sanctuary of overtime. No, the part of the drama that was truly too hard to take was the lead-up to Henderson's shot. THAT scene typified the season Vanderbilt is enduring more than anything else.
If you looked at the YouTube video to try to comprehend how the Rebels, inbounding the ball from Vandy's baseline, scored a tying bucket in 3.2 seconds without a set play, you surely noted the event that enabled the sequence to unfold. Dai-Jon Parker, whose main responsibility was to clog the passing lane in the middle third of the court so that Henderson could not get his mitts on the orange, awkwardly rushed Ole Miss ballhandler Jarvis Summers. He then slipped and skidded, giving Summers the perfect angle for a clean and quick pass to Henderson. It's true that Henderson never should have gotten that clean a look, but Vanderbilt was positionally sound before Parker slipped. There are situations in which teams fail to do the common-sense thing (fouling when up by three in the final seconds), and then there are situations when the piano falls on you from the sky. This was the latter for Vanderbilt basketball in an SEC season that is three-for-three in terms of delivering gut punches to the Commodores.
What can you do in response to this? One thing: play hard. That's it.
SOUTH CAROLINA AT-A-GLANCE
Darrin Horn, who led Western Kentucky deep into the NCAA tournament and made a name for himself in the coaching community, could not do a thing as South Carolina's head coach. He exited stage right in 2012, and Frank Martin – the fiery owner of the most withering, steel-melting staredown in college basketball – took over.
Martin got his big break in the coaching profession when Bob Huggins – fresh from a recent humiliation involving alcoholism and the wayward public behavior it produced in him (with a police officer, no less) – thanked Kansas State for rescuing his career by bolting Manhattan, Kan., after only one season on the job. Martin was tabbed as Huggins's replacement, and after leading KSU to a stream of NCAA tournament appearances, including an Elite Eight run in 2010, Martin heightened his stock in the coaching community. His presence in the Palmetto State is the most encouraging thing to happen to South Carolina basketball since a former Vanderbilt coach named Eddie Fogler plied his trade in Columbia.
Yes, Martin's presence in Columbia is the most hopeful thing to happen to South Carolina basketball in 15 years, for it was in 1998 that the program – in many ways – lost its spark. Fogler – who made Vanderbilt a No. 3 seed and a Sweet 16 team in 1993 – guided the Gamecocks to the No. 2 seed in the 1997 NCAAs and a three seed in 1998. However, when South Carolina lost in the first round in 1998, a year after doing the same thing in '97, the program was unable to cope. Coaches, players, and staff all ran out of steam. The negativity attached to those flameouts wiped away the many good things the Gamecocks achieved over those two seasons. Fogler's career rapidly unraveled (a few years later, he got in trouble for inappropriate behavior on a CBS NCAA tournament broadcast), the reputation of the program tumbled, and a largely lost period of 15 years has followed. South Carolina is now rebuilding. It has lost to Elon, Saint John's, Clemson, Auburn, and Mississippi State. Yes, that's a rebuilding year, all right. We'll see what Martin can do in the coming years to reverse the fortunes of a program that is still haunted by 1997 and 1998.
SOUTH CAROLINA STAT PACK – STATISTICAL HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS
Three-point field goal shooting percentage: 34.6. National rank: 136 (out of 345).
Points allowed per possession: 0.977. National rank: 176 (last in the SEC).
Turnovers per game: 17.1. National rank: 334 (last in the SEC).
Two-point field goal percentage defense: 49.3 percent shooting allowed. National rank: 231.
Rebounding percentage: 55.8. National rank: 37 (second in the SEC).
Forward – Laimonas Chatkevicius– Freshman, 6-11, 255 2012-13: 3.3 points per game, 2.5 rebounds per game
Chatkevicius averages only 9.9 minutes per game, but he got the starting nod over teammate Mindaugas Kacinas this past Wednesday against LSU. Kacinas averages starter-level minutes (25.6 per game), contributing 7.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
Forward – Lakeem Jackson – Senior, 6-5, 235; 2012-13: 9.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 2.4 assists per game
Jackson is the closest thing South Carolina has to a well-rounded frontcourt player. While his teammates in the frontcourt (Chatkevicius and Kacinas in particular) are unpolished freshmen, Jackson knows how to get the ball on the glass, and he knows how to pass the ball to set up others for good shots. He's not an accomplished scorer, but his basketball IQ adds value to the Gamecocks when he's on the floor.
Guard – Bruce Ellington – Junior, 5-9, 197; 2012-13: 10.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.4 steals per game
Commodore fans know Ellington well from the province of pigskin. Ellington rejoins the hoopsters in midseason after focusing on football. This game against Vanderbilt will be his eighth basketball game of the season. One should expect his scoring numbers to grow as the season unfolds, because as you know, Ellington's quickness is off the charts. Stopping Ellington's dribble penetration has to be a top priority for VU's defense on Saturday.
Guard – Eric Smith – Junior, 5-11, 205; 2012-13: 6.1 ppg, 3.9 apg
This is the table-setter for South Carolina's offense. Ellington looks to score and break down a defense. Smith is more the probing type. He'll try to create an angle from which he can feed a teammate. He shoots only 25.8 percent from three-point range on a team whose two best three-point shooters, Brian Richardson and Brenton Williams, are not high-volume shooters (fewer than 63 attempts apiece through 16 games). Vanderbilt has to play Smith's drive, not his shot. Allowing him to shoot is smart; enabling him to make incisions in VU's defense could very possibly tip this game in the Gamecocks' favor.
Guard – Brian Richardson – Junior, 6-4, 175; 2012-13: 8.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg
It must be noted, plainly and firmly, that with Richardson averaging under nine points, only one South Carolina starter averages at least 10 points, and that's the football player who has participated in only seven of 16 games to this point in the season (Ellington). That's one big reason the Gamecocks have so much work to do in order to grow as a program.
Martin, in his first season on the job in Columbia, wants to get a good look at the players on his roster. As a result, he has adjusted his lineup combinations while also dealing with the fact that guard LaShay Page has been ruled academically ineligible for the remainder of the season. Guards Brenton Williams and Damien Leonard will try to pick up the slack for Page in the backcourt, while forwards Michael Carrera and R.J. Slawson (plus Kacinas) will try to add ballast to the Gamecocks' frontcourt.
Williams is Carolina's leading scorer, averaging 11.7 points per game. A case could be made that Carrera has been the Gamecocks' best player this season, averaging 10.4 points and 7.1 rebounds off the bench.
Keys to the Game
1) Rebound. If you can beat a team at its strongest point, what does it have left to offer? If Vanderbilt can out-rebound a strong rebounding team, South Carolina will find it hard to win.
2) Stop dribble penetration. If Vanderbilt defenders remain in front of Ellington and Smith, thereby preventing those two players from getting into the lane, South Carolina won't generate quality shots, and Vanderbilt can dictate the terms on which this game is contested.
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