Second Scouting Report: South Carolina

Vanderbilt, your table is ready. Beat South Carolina this Saturday, and you don't even need to scoreboard-watch Texas A&M's game at Arkansas. Yes, the Commodores just have to take care of the Gamecocks on Senior Day if they want to get a first-round bye in the 2013 SEC Tournament.


Go get a win – that's all VU needs after LSU disposed of Texas A&M on Wednesday night. Vanderbilt lost to Florida, as expected, but it did not suffer the one-game loss in the standings that would have forced VU to get help from Arkansas this upcoming weekend.

Vanderbilt poured its whole heart into the attempt to knock off Florida this past Wednesday. The Dores displayed tremendous fight for three-quarters of the proceedings, but just after the under-12 media timeout in the second half, a lack of offense finally caused the dam to break. The Commodores' defense was no longer able to hold back the Gators, who secured the outright SEC championship on their home floor. Vanderbilt should in no way be discouraged by its performance. If VU plays defense like that throughout the coming SEC season in 2014, improvements on offense should lift the Commodores to the NCAA tournament bubble at the very least.

The task is simple: Grab a win, get a first-round bye, and then focus on making some noise at the SEC Tournament… without having to labor through First Round Wednesday.

SOUTH CAROLINA AT-A-GLANCE

What's rather amazing to contemplate in this 2013 SEC season is that the Gamecocks are not the league's worst team… or even its next-to-worst team. South Carolina, to its great credit, has continued to fight through its manifest limitations and profound deficiencies. The Gamecocks put Ole Miss on the bubble a few weeks ago before Mississippi State popped the Rebels' bubble. South Carolina then took down MSU this past Wednesday to move to 12th in the conference, a game ahead of both Auburn and Mississippi State. South Carolina did lose to Auburn earlier this season, but the Gamecocks have been far better than the free-falling Tigers in recent weeks. Coach Frank Martin has his team playing with great energy and passion, a testament to the trust he gets from his players.

When you strip away the effort, though, from South Carolina's larger identity, everything else is hard to stomach. The Gamecocks might be long on effort, but they're woefully short on both execution (the crispness with which they run plays) and shooting. Making sound – and simple – passes is a chore for this team, as is hitting a perimeter shoot or using any semblance of touch near the tin. Martin knows that as soon as this season ends, he'll need to get on the recruiting trail and find a few knockdown shooters who also happen to have the wingspan that will make them credible defensive stoppers.

SOUTH CAROLINA STAT PACK – STATISTICAL HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS

Three-point field goal shooting percentage: 32.7. Change: -1.9 percent (34.6 on Jan. 19).

Points allowed per possession: 1.003. Change: +.026 points (0.977 points on Jan. 19).

Turnovers per game: 15. Change: -2.1 turnovers (17.1 on Jan. 19).

Two-point field goal percentage defense: 50.5. Change: +1.2 percent (49.3 on Jan. 19).

Rebounding percentage: 51.6. Change: -4.2 percent (55.8 on Jan. 19).

Starting Lineup

Forward – Michael Carrera –
Freshman, 6-5, 212 2012-13: 10.2 points per game, 7 rebounds per game

Carrera, now a starter (he was on the bench when these teams last met on Jan. 19), can be a beast at times. He posted 18 points and 11 rebounds against Tennessee and Jarnell Stokes on Feb. 10. He went for 13 and 13 against Ole Miss on Feb. 20. Carrera was averaging 10.4 points and 7.1 rebounds on Jan. 19, so his averages have held steady over the past month and a half. Vanderbilt will need to keep him under wraps.

Carrera will share court time with fellow forward Mindaugas Kacinas as part of a South Carolina lineup (a South "Carolineup," you could say…) which has remained fluid this season. In each of the Gamecocks' last three games, Martin has put a different starting five on the floor. Kacinas is not seeing as much playing time because his per-game averages have dropped sharply since Jan. 19. His scoring is down to 5.2 points per game (from 7.3), and his rebounds per game are down to 3.9 (from 5.2 on Jan. 19).

Forward – Lakeem Jackson – Senior, 6-5, 235; 2012-13: 7.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.9 assists per game

Jackson, like Kacinas, has become a less productive player as the SEC season has unfolded. His scoring average is down 2.1 points compared to its Jan. 19 mark (9.9 points per game). His rebounds are down 1.2 boards per contest (7.3 on Jan. 19). His assists are down 0.5 dimes (2.4 a month and a half ago). Jackson hasn't scored more than 11 points in a game since a Jan. 5 cupcake contest against South Carolina State (16). He has scored in double figures only twice in SEC competition since Jan. 16. You expect a senior starter to make a strong push at the end of a regular season, but that scenario just hasn't materialized for Jackson, and the Gamecocks' bench has not been able to pick up the slack for him.

Forward – Brian Steele – Freshman, 6-5, 196; 2012-13: 2.2 ppg, 1 rpg

Steele is a freshman Martin wants to see on the floor before this season ends, and since South Carolina is playing in the first round of the expanded SEC Tournament, the end of the season could be as early as next Wednesday, March 13. Steele will split time on the floor with forward Laimonas Chatkevicius, who averages 3.9 points and 3.1 boards per game.

Guard – Bruce Ellington – Junior, 5-9, 197; 2012-13: 9.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.4 steals per game

Ellington's scoring is down a full point from Jan. 19 (10.7 per game at the time). His rebounds are up 0.5 boards in that same span of time (2.1 a month and a half ago), and his steals-per-game average has not changed. Ellington, who is so quick and is therefore capable of getting into the lane on an appreciably consistent basis, has not scored more than 14 points or fewer than six in any South Carolina game since Jan. 12, when he tallied 18 against Auburn. When a player with Ellington's quickness is not scoring in large quantities, you know that his jump shot is letting him down. Indeed, Ellington hits just 25.3 percent of his threes and only 33 percent of all field goal attempts. If you stop the drive, you will stop Ellington as an offensive threat.

Guard – Eric Smith – Junior, 5-11, 205; 2012-13: 5.6 ppg, 3 apg

Smith's scoring average has dropped half a point since Jan. 19, when it stood at 6.1 points per game. His assists-per-game average has decreased by almost a full dime (from 3.9 a month and a half ago). Smith has not scored more than 12 points in any SEC game this season, and he's hit double figures only three times. As is the case with Ellington, Smith is the unfortunate owner of an entirely undependable jumper. He also hits under 26 percent of his triples (25.8 percent) and under one third of all field goal attempts (32.4 percent).

Bench

Martin, always tweaking the shape of his starting lineup and his rotation, will pick from four players in addition to Chatkevicius and Kacinas, who have already been mentioned. Guards Brenton Williams, Brian Richardson, and Damien Leonard plus forward R.J. Slawson will be on call for South Carolina. It is on the bench where the Gamecocks become a better shooting team… but at a cost.

Williams is Carolina's leading active scorer. ( LaShay Page led the team in its first nine games before being ruled academically ineligible for the remainder of the season.) Williams averages 10.9 points per game. He scored 38 points on Wednesday against Mississippi State, hitting 10 of 17 field goals, 6 of 9 threes, and all 12 of his free throw attempts. Williams hits 42.1 percent of his threes, but at 5-11, his lack of size makes him vulnerable when the Gamecocks play defense. Martin must always choose between Williams's offensive strengths and his defensive liabilities, a tough call for any coach. Richardson hits 38.5 percent of his threes, but he's not as prolific a shooter or scorer as Williams is.

Keys to the Game

1) Carry the defensive effort against Florida into (and through) Saturday's 40 minutes.
Anyone who watched Vanderbilt bamboozle Florida's offense for the first 28 minutes of Wednesday night's game in Gainesville could tell you, straightforwardly and without any pretense whatsoever, that if the Commodores play with that same level of quality on defense this Saturday, they'll beat South Carolina. They could quite possibly thump the Gamecocks by a rather hefty margin, too.

2) Minimize lapses and breakdowns. If you watch college basketball, you see it all the time: Team A works hard, slowly and steadily, to build a 10-point lead. Then, in a 30-second span, a bucket-forced turnover-bucket-steal-bucket sequence by Team B shaves that deficit down to three points. As long as Vanderbilt doesn't have one of those 30-second breakdowns on Saturday, it should be in good shape.

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