Basketball Scouting Report: South Carolina
It was fun while it lasted. Dreams of an SEC surge and bigger postseason possibilities depended on the ability to race through the first half of February without a single loss. Those dreams are gone, but it's important to reassert the point that Vanderbilt has still overachieved to this point in the season, given its resources. Kevin Stallings rightly doesn't want to hear anymore about how unlucky his team has been. He just wants to coach his team well, and that mindset has borne much fruit in the first few weeks of 2014. It's time to do nothing more than refocus and grab a win against a beatable team, as Vanderbilt tries to continue the climb up the mountain in the SEC, intent on doing what it can to maximize this season and set the table for 2015.
SOUTH CAROLINA AT-A-GLANCE
For Frank Martin, the successes of his tenure at Kansas State are receding further into the past. This is simply not a quick-fix program for South Carolina's head coach. A man whose face's default setting is "on the verge of rage" has had to patiently guide a very young team through a dreary season in a conference that doesn't own a lot of quality depth to begin with. It takes work to fall to last place in this year's SEC, and the Gamecocks are comfortably positioned in that slot, with Auburn finding a pulse in recent weeks to move to 3-7 in the league. South Carolina is 1-9, the one team that's a virtual lock to be part of "SEC Tournament Wednesday," the cringe-inducing day in which the league's 11th through 14th seeds play two games that not even Kentucky fans might bother to watch. (Editorial note: If the SEC lopped off those two games and invited only 12 teams to its conference tournament, would anyone really and truly mind?)
Yet, for all the struggles the Gamecocks have experienced this season, they haven't failed for lack of effort. This is a team that has failed to hold second-half leads (at Ole Miss, for instance) or pull out close games (at home versus LSU and Ole Miss, at Missouri, at home versus Auburn). Last year, a similarly subpar South Carolina team defeated Ole Miss and nearly knocked the Rebels out of NCAA tournament contention. Vanderbilt isn't deep enough, anyway, to think it can just show up and win. The Dores must put in the hard yards against a team that will probably put up a genuine fight.
Forward – Michael Carrera – Sophomore, 6-5, 214; 2013-14: 6.6 points per game, 5.1 rebounds per game, 1 blocked shot per game
Carrera is a placeholder starter, while teammate Mindaugas Kacinas generally receives more minutes, including this past Saturday in a blowout loss to Tennessee. Kacinas averages 5.2 points and 4.6 boards per game, however, so it's not as though either man gives Martin the production he's looking for at this position. Carrera is actually the most prolific rebounder and shot-blocker on the team at 6-5. That reality tells you a lot about the weakness of this team near the basket.
Forward – Demetrius Henry – Freshman, 6-9, 215; 2013-14: 5 ppg, 3.8 rpg
It's startling, but it's undeniable: South Carolina's frontcourt is a black hole in terms of scoring, rebounding, and shot-blocking production. It's true that Henry, like Carrera and Kacinas, is an underclassman, but it's the middle of February, and not one of these three frontcourt players has shown considerable signs of improvement over the course of three full months of basketball.
Guard – Duane Notice – Freshman, 6-2, 221; 2013-14: 7.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.8 apg
Notice has had to do more for this team in light of the injury suffered by guard Tyrone Johnson on Jan. 15. Johnson had been the team's leading assist man (3.4 per game) and an 11-point scorer. Notice has not been able to match those numbers, but for a freshman pressed into extended service, he's done a solid job. The extra playing time he's gained this season should help Notice and the Gamecocks when November rolls around.
Guard – Sindarius Thornwell – Freshman, 6-5, 206; 2013-14: 13.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.2 steals per game
Thornwell is South Carolina's most promising player in a starting five dominated by underclassmen. Thornwell gets his hands involved in every aspect of competition. More than anyone else on this roster, Thornwell: 1) Blends scoring and passing at the offensive end of the floor; 2) reveals a full skill set that, in time, can be polished to greater effect. Vanderbilt needs to pay attention to him at both ends in this game.
Guard – Brenton Williams – Senior, 5-11, 172; 2013-14: 13.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1 steal per game
Especially with Johnson out, Williams has more shots to take. Yet, you might be surprised to know that over the past few weeks, Thornwell has been taking more shots in most games than Williams has. Williams has reined in his game a little bit, which – on one level – is a forward step in his development on court. He had a tendency at times last season to jack up a lot of shots, so there's definitely an awareness on his part of the need to work within an offensive structure. However, Williams has not been able to become a more prolific scorer, and that's something which has held back the Gamecocks.
In what is a very fluid nine-man rotation (nine active players average at least nine minutes per game), Martin is always tinkering with lineup combinations to try to improve his team's level of performance. In addition to Kacinas, forwards Desmond Ringer and Laimonas Chatkevicius help out for the Gamecocks, while guard Jaylen Shaw provides reinforcements in the backcourt. Of these players, only Chatkevicius leaves a noticeable statistical footprint, averaging 3.4 rebounds per game.
Keys to the Game
1) Get back to defending well. Let's not try to make things more complicated than they need to be. Vanderbilt lost hold of its defensive mastery last Saturday. It's quite understandable that a shorthanded team could not continue to maintain a high standard, but in this game, the Dores must return to the formula that brought them a share of SEC success.
2) Don't let Thornwell flourish. Vanderbilt can tolerate a 15- or even an 18-point game from Thornwell, but the Dores can't allow South Carolina's most promising player to accompany a big scoring night with considerable levels of output on the boards or in the passing game. Limiting Thornwell to only one area of influence (whatever it might be) will force the Gamecocks to get ample degrees of production from other sources, something they're not in a good position to do.
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